On Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, correspondent Michael Isikoff claimed a prank phone call on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker "provided his critics with evidence that his real motivation is what they've been saying all along, to crush public unions." On Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Erica Hill declared the "embarrassing" call revealed Walker's "plan for putting pressure on the big unions."
Isikoff suggested that Walker's private phone conversation with Ian Murphy of the left-wing Buffalo Beast website (who was pretending to be billionaire donor David Koch) ran counter to the Wisconsin Governor's public statements on his budget-cutting proposal: "Publicly, Governor Scott Walker has insisted the standoff over union rights in Wisconsin is all about saving money." On the Early Show, correspondent Dean Reynolds proclaimed: "Walker is heard discussing strategy to force Democratic senators to return to Wisconsin and vote. In another exchange, he tells of plans to punish state workers with layoffs."
ABC News refrained from reporting on the prank phone call. It was not mentioned on Wednesday's World News or Thursday's Good Morning America.
Isikoff warned of Walker's plan: "[It] would force government workers to contribute more for pension and health benefits, severely limit their rights to collective bargaining, and make it more difficult to collect union dues. If he succeeds, it could dry up a major source of campaign cash for Democrats." Reynolds fretted: "The Governor's plan would end the right of the unions to bargain collectively over benefits and working conditions."
Near the end of his report, an amazed Reynolds remarked: "Though Wednesday's prank call lasted 20 minutes, the Governor never caught on." Reynolds then noted how "At a press conference later, Walker suggested the call was hardly newsworthy." A clip was played of Walker explaining, "The bottom line is the things I said are things I've said publicly all along."
Reynolds couldn't help but play a sound bite of one of Walker's critics, "a Democratic opponent [who] took the mike and trashed him" moments after the press conference ended. A clip was played of Wisconsin State Representative Brett Hulsey ranting: "He [Walker] is acting like a dictator, not a leader. The guy's a megalomaniac."
Here is a full transcript of Isikoff's February 23 Nightly News report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The domino effect from the showdown in Wisconsin, and the prank call that fooled the Governor and is now all over the web.
7:11PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: And in this country, another day of protests in Madison, Wisconsin, as the battle over stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights continues, and the protests and clashes are spreading now. Some state lawmakers in Indiana left the state to protest an anti-union bill that Republicans have now dropped. But the focus today was in Madison, where the new governor of Wisconsin did run on a promise of what he's trying to bring about now, but where today a prank phone call put a spotlight on ties between the Governor and a billionaire backer. Our report from our national investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Publicly, Governor Scott Walker has insisted the standoff over union rights in Wisconsin is all about saving money.
SCOTT WALKER: We're going to balance the budget the right way. We're not going to push it off to the next generation of taxpayers.
ISIKOFF: But yesterday in a phone call he thought he was having with a major campaign donor, Walker provided his critics with evidence that his real motivation is what they've been saying all along, to crush public unions.
WALKER: This is about public sector unions. You essentially are having taxpayers' money being used to pay to lobby for spending more of taxpayers' money. It's absolutely ridiculous.
ISIKOFF: Governor Walker believed the caller was David Koch, a billionaire oil man, conservative activist, and philanthropist. In fact, he was talking to a left-leaning journalist posing as Koch.
WALKER: This is our moment. This is our time to change the course of history.
ISIKOFF: The Governor's plan would force government workers to contribute more for pension and health benefits, severely limit their rights to collective bargaining, and make it more difficult to collect union dues. If he succeeds, it could dry up a major source of campaign cash for Democrats. From unions like the Wisconsin Education Association Council, or WEAC, the teachers union.
MIKE MCCABE: Union money is a huge factor for Democratic candidates and WEAC stands above all the rest.
ISIKOFF: It's pumped more than $10 million into state races over the past decade. Almost all of it for Democrats.
MCCABE: This is really about shifting the landscape in Wisconsin, tilting the balance of power in favor of Governor Walker's party.
ISIKOFF: Critics charge Walker's plan advances the conservative agenda of David Koch and his brother, Charles, who own Koch industries, a huge energy firm with nearly 3,000 workers in Wisconsin. Last year, Koch industries PAC gave $43,000 to Walker's campaign, the maximum under state law. A little noticed provision in Walker's budget would allow the sale of state-owned power plants without bids, which could benefit companies like Koch industries. The company told NBC it has no interest in purchasing Wisconsin power plants and insisted Walker's plan wouldn't benefit Koch more than any other business in Wisconsin. At the end of that call, the David Koch impersonator makes an invitation.
IAN MURPHY [BUFFALO BEAST EDITOR PRETENDING TO BE DAVID KOCH]: I tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.
WALKER: Alright, that would be outstanding.
ISIKOFF: Michael Isikoff, NBC News, Washington.
Here is a full transcript of Reynold's February 24 Early Show report:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
ERICA HILL: Duped. As Wisconsin's budget battle remains at a stalemate, a left-wing website gets Wisconsin's Republican governor to reveal his plan for putting pressure on the big unions. We will hear that tape, and the Governor's reaction.
7:08AM ET SEGMENT:
ERICA HILL: We want to get you at this point, the latest on Wisconsin's budget standoff. Democratic state senators are still refusing to go to work. This, as the world listens to an embarrassing conversation between Republican Governor Scott Walker, and a telephone prankster. CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds is in Madison, Wisconsin this morning with more on that. Dean, good morning.
DEAN REYNOLDS: Good morning, Erica. Well, the Governor says he won't let that prank call, which he unwittingly accepted yesterday, distract him from his goal of limiting the power of public workers' unions in this state.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Showdown in Wisconsin; Stalemate Continues as Governor is Pranked]
As the Wisconsin budget standoff entered another day, the news was dominated by a prank call on Governor Scott Walker.
SCOTT WALKER: Hi, this is Scott Walker.
IAN MURPHY [EDITOR OF BUFFALO BEAST PRETENDING TO BE DAVID KOCH]: Scott. David Koch, how are you?
WALKER: Hey, David. I'm good. And yourself?
REYNOLDS: The Governor thought he was speaking to one of his biggest bank rollers, billionaire industrialist David Koch. But it was actually a liberal blogger, Ian Murphy, impersonating Koch on the phone. The website Buffalo Beast posted audio of the conversation. Walker is heard discussing strategy to force Democratic senators to return to Wisconsin and vote. In another exchange, he tells of plans to punish state workers with layoffs.
WALKER: We'll wait it out. If they want to start sacrificing thousands of public workers to be laid off, sooner or later, there's going to be pressure on the senators to come back.
REYNOLDS: In the call, Walker styled himself as a latter-day Ronald Reagan, battling big labor.
WALKER: Ronald Reagan wasn't a pushover. And I said this may not have as broad of world implications, but in Wisconsin's history - little did I know how big it would be nationally - in Wisconsin's history I said this is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history.
REYNOLDS: The Governor's plan would end the right of the unions to bargain collectively over benefits and working conditions. Though Wednesday's prank call lasted 20 minutes, the Governor never caught on. Even when he was offered a trip to California by the fake Koch.
MURPHY: Well, I'll tell you what, Scott, once you crush these bastards [bleeped out], I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.
WALKER: Alright. That would be outstanding.
REYNOLDS: At a press conference later, Walker suggested the call was hardly newsworthy.
WALKER: The bottom line is the things I said are things I've said publicly all along.
REYNOLDS: But emotions continue to run high. As soon as Walker left the podium, a Democratic opponent took the mike and trashed him.
BRETT HULSEY [STATE REP., D-WI] : He is acting like a dictator, not a leader. The guy's a megalomaniac.
REYNOLDS: Meanwhile, in nearby Indiana, which has its own budget showdown, a deputy attorney general tweeted that Wisconsin authorities should use live ammunition against the labor protesters. He said later he was being satirical. But he was fired anyway. Erica.
HILL: Dean Reynolds in Madison, Wisconsin this morning. Dean, thanks.
- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.