2. CNN on Specter: GOP 'Far to the Right;' Democrats in 'Center'
3. Flashback: When Jeffords Switched, Media: GOP Too Conservative
4. MSNBC's Brewer: GOP Obstructionism Slowing Response to Swine Flu?
The evening newscasts on Tuesday night attributed Senator Arlen Specter's motivation for changing parties to how he realized he wouldn't win the Republican primary in Pennsylvania, but they also, just as they did with Senator Jim Jeffords in 2001 (see item #3 below), eagerly relayed -- without any challenge -- Specter's spin that, in the words of the TV journalists, he "had been driven out by the right-wing of the Republican Party," the GOP's "increasingly conservative tilt" and "the fringe of the party."
CBS framed its story around that convenient target as the Evening News showcased Specter's charge in its tease: "The party has shifted very far to the, to the right." Katie Couric noted that Specter "acknowledged he cannot win the Republican primary, so he's becoming a Democrat. But as Chip Reid reports, Specter says there were other reasons behind the switch." Setting up the same Specter soundbite as in the tease, Reid reported the "moderate" Specter "says he's leaving the Republican party because the Republican party left him." Reid bolstered Specter's concern by asserting "200,000 Pennsylvania Republicans have registered as Democrats in just the past year. Specter blames the party's increasingly conservative tilt." Specter exclaimed: "There ought to be a rebellion. There ought to be an uprising."
On NBC, Kelly O'Donnell described how "he would be facing a much more conservative challenger" in the primary and "couldn't risk" losing, before she related Specter's rationalization "that voters who tend to turn out in the primaries tend to be on the fringe of the party, not a moderate Republican like he is." ABC's Jonathan Karl highlighted how "Specter said he had been driven out by the right-wing of the Republican Party."Then viewers were treated to Specter scolding conservatives: "They don't make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party. There ought to be a rebellion. There ought to be an uprising."
[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted late Tuesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed captioning against the video to provide these transcripts of the CBS and NBC stories from Tuesday night, April 28:
# CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER: Also tonight, a sudden power surge for Senate Democrats, as a prominent Republican abruptly switches sides.
COURIC: Turning to politics now, and an announcement today that really shook things up in Washington and left Senate Democrats just one vote away from a filibuster-proof super-majority. Five-term Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania acknowledged he cannot win the Republican primary, so he's becoming a Democrat. But as Chip Reid reports, Specter says there were other reasons behind the switch.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We change topics now to politics and the shot heard 'round Washington and elsewhere today. One analyst today said it was the biggest gift President Obama could possibly receive on the eve of his 100th day in office. The veteran Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is tonight a Democrat. He switched parties today. That may give the Democrats a crucial edge in the Senate. Kelly O'Donnell covers the Hill for us and is with us from there with more on this tonight. Kelly, good evening.
KELLY O'DONNELL: Brian, it really did feel like a seismic shift here today. Arlen Specter has been the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania since Ronald Reagan took office back in 1981. And with his party switch, sure, it's about his own political survival. But it also means something more -- more power for the President and the Democratic Party. So the background goes like this: Specter told us today he thought that he could not win re-election in a primary in his home state. He would be facing a much more conservative challenger, Congressman Pat Toomey, who almost beat him last time around. Now, Specter said he couldn't risk that, and said that voters who tend to turn out in the primaries tend to be on the fringe of the party, not a moderate Republican like he is.
During the first hour and a half following Senator Arlen Specter's announcement that he was switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party, CNN pushed the "big message" behind the defection, that "the Republican Party has moved so far to the right, that it is making itself uncompetitive in significant parts of the country, like the Northeast," as the network's senior political analyst Bill Schneider put it. He continued that the "Democrats, under President Obama, are really moving to claim the center of American politics." Anchor Kyra Phillips even used the "center" label as an apparent synonym for Democrat.
Phillips' fellow anchor Tony Harris turned to Schneider three times over the course of fifteen minutes during the 12 pm Eastern hour of the Newsroom program on CNN. During the first appearance 22 minutes into the hour, Harris asked the senior political analyst, "Could we see more of these defections and switches?" Schneider answered, "Tony, this has been going on for years. Republicans in the Northeast have been defeated....They've been losing general elections. The Republican Party -- there's a big message here, which is that the Republican Party has moved so far to the right, that it is making itself uncompetitive in significant parts of the country, like the Northeast. This is really a cannon shot at them, saying this party is no longer competitive in lots of the country."
[This item, by the MRC's Matthew Balan, was posted Tuesday evening on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Eleven minutes later, the anchor again prompted Schneider for his take on Specter's move. The analyst expanded on his earlier remarks, making his use of the "center" label:
SCHNEIDER: Well, first of all, like many Republicans in the Northeast, he was facing a conservative primary opponent. He was clearly worried about his own survival. But there is a much bigger message here. Is there a -- an Obama realignment beginning? Is been going on for some time, that Republicans have become more and more desperate in the Northeast. But President Obama's election -- the conversion of Arlen Specter means that there's an indication President Obama is reaching out to the middle of the electorate, which the Republicans have increasingly abandoned with their move to the right. Particularly in the Northeast and on the West Coast, there are a lot of voters who do not feel comfortable with the Republican Party. The reverse happened when Ronald Reagan was president. He brought -- reached out to a lot of conservative Democrats and brought them into the Republican Party, particularly in the South. Well, there may now be an Obama realignment that is parallel to the Reagan realignment, where northeastern and western Republicans are moving more and more to the Democratic Party, and Republicans in those parts of the country are really becoming a trace element.
Later in the same segment, Harris asked about the Pennsylvania Senator's statement, and Schneider got more explicit about Democrats's "claim [on] the center:"
HARRIS: One of the comments -- we played a portion of the comments from Senator Patrick Leahy. But apparently, he went on to say that in his conversation with Senator Specter, Senator Specter said to him, the party left him -- referring to the Republican Party -- the party left him, he didn't leave the party. Shed some more light on what you think may be behind that statement.
Schneider did not appear during the 1 pm Eastern hour of the Newsroom program, but the "center" label he had used apparently had a significant effect on anchor Kyra Phillips, who made a bit of a Freudian slip 13 minutes into that hour:
KYRA PHILLIPS: Well, it's been our top story of the day. Since 1966, Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Senator, has been a Republican, but today he has switched parties.
A look back to May of 2001 when Republican Senator Jim Jeffords switched from Republican to caucus with Democrats, offers a preview of the themes the press corps will advance again in covering Senator Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party. From the Thursday May 24, 2001 MRC CyberAlert:
# Jeffords Defection Theme #1: Bush should move left to the center. CBS's John Roberts relayed how a Democratic pollster hoped, "he may be forced to govern from the middle." NBC's Campbell Brown pushed Bush to the left: "The President's options? Political analysts say bi-partisan compromise."
# Jeffords Defection Theme #2: Label him a "moderate," or a "maverick," but never what he really is, a liberal. Looking at ideological ratings, Jeffords' record makes him 24 points less conservative and 25 points more liberal than a true moderate like Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.
# Jeffords Defection Theme #3: Blame conservatives for making the Republican Party too conservative. ABC's Linda Douglass referred to his "frustration with his increasingly conservative party." NBC's Lisa Myers worried about how he "was treated as a pariah in his own party." On MSNBC, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter suggested the Republican Party left him.
# Jeffords Defection Theme #4: Scold the Bush White House for punishing him for working to eviscerate their bills. NBC's Lisa Myers credited his departure to how "he is deeply offended by lack of respect from the White House and from key Senate Republicans."
More in the May 24, 2001 CyberAlert: www.mrc.org
[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Tuesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
Two more items from the Friday, May 25, 2001 MRC CyberAlert:
# Republican Party too conservative. ABC and CBS conveyed Jim Jeffords' warning that Bush must listen to "moderates" or he'll be a one-termer. CBS relayed the recommendation of one operative to reach out to "others who feel Jim Jeffords's pain." NBC's Lisa Myers put the burden on Bush: "This new reality will test the President's promise to be uniter and not a divider."
# The networks assumed Jeffords had only noble intentions as they focused on approval by Vermonters. Bob Schieffer: "He was treated like a rock star." Jim Axelrod claimed Vermont "values principle over party." Tom Brokaw admired how he "embraced a flinty kind of New England independence." Andrea Mitchell called him "perfectly suited" for the state since "Vermonters say they're not liberal or conservative, just socially conscious."
And from December of 2001:
Liberal Senator Jim Jeffords was warmly embraced by Katie Couric, who dubbed him "a maverick" and raved that he "is the personification of one man, one vote, and his story a classic of American politics." Couric gushed on the Today show: "Jeffords is a man at peace with himself, enjoying work on his Vermont farm, splitting logs, saving a few pennies with some inventive repair work on a wheelbarrow."
RealMedia video: media.eyeblast.org
MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer on Tuesday morning speculated as to whether supposed obstructionism by congressional Republicans may end up hampering the response to the swine flu outbreak. Talking to Republican strategist Tucker Bounds and Democratic strategist Peter Mirijanian in the 10 AM EDT hour, she asserted: "Let me ask you, Health and Human Services Secretary has not been confirmed. You have a missing director of the CDC. The surgeon general is not there."
Specifically addressing Bounds, Brewer quizzed: "Do you, Tucker, think that Republicans are in any way to blame for standing in the way of those important positions -- when you're facing swine flu -- from being filled?" Bounds, of course pointed out that Democrats control both the Senate and the House. As for the CDC, Obama has not even nominated a candidate. Regarding the position of Surgeon General, Dr. Sanjay Gupta was considered, but took his name out of contention. No one has picked to fill the spot. See Politico: www.politico.com
So, how, exactly, would Republicans be to blame? Brewer didn't say.
In an odd non sequitur, Brewer began the question on Republican culpability by musing, "A viewer just e-mailed me here and he said he just saw this bumper sticker called- that says 'Republicans No Everything.' And no was N-O."
[This item, by the MRC's Scott Whitlock, was posted Tuesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]
The MSNBC host also announced that "Rush Limbaugh is blaming President Obama for swine flu." She then proceeded to play the following clip, which obviously seems like a joke and not an actual accusation by the popular talk show host: "Everywhere Obama is spreading Obamaism, there is a deadly disease taking place either in the T.A.R.P. community or in the newspaper business. Obama goes to Mexico, they have an earthquake. Obama goes to Mexico, pig flu."
Brewer then taunted, "Wow! Tucker, would you like to respond on behalf of conservatives everywhere?"
To be fair, Brewer did discuss Democratic criticism of GOP Senator Susan Collins for removing $800 billion from the stimulus bill that would have gone to fight a flu pandemic. Brewer noted, "Peter, do you think it's fair to point the finger at Susan Collins? After all, Senator Schumer also called the flu pandemic money porky?"
A transcript of the April 28 segment, which aired at 10:14 EDT, follows:
CONTESSA BREWER: Yeah, some of that finger pointing, Tamron, is directed at Republican Senator Susan Collins, the moderate Republican from Maine led the effort to remove more than $800 billion to fight a flu pandemic- fought to remove it from the stimulus bill. John Nichols at The Nation today calls Collins a "no nothing" and accuses her of irresponsibly playing politics. Republican strategist Tucker Bounds and Democratic strategist Peter Mirijanian are here with me now. Peter, do you think it's fair to point the finger at Susan Collins? After all, Senator Schumer also called the flu pandemic money porky?
-- Brent Baker