Margaret Carlson Suggests Media Bias Propped Charlie Rangel

On Sunday’s Reliable Sources on CNN, as host Howard Kurtz led a discussion on media coverage of Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel’s ethical problems, guest Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News – formerly of Time magazine and CNN's Capital Gang – seemed to suggest that Rangel would have lost his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee sooner if the mainstream media were not so biased in favor of the New York Democrat.

Kurtz had just led a discussion with Carlson and the Washington Examiner’s Chris Stirewalt on whether ABC’s Jonathan Karl had slanted his coverage of Republican Senator Jim Bunning’s efforts to delay passage of the extension of unemployment benefits, with the CNN host posing the question: "When the television reports go from Senator Bunning on the floor, clearly ticking off his colleagues, to some poor unemployed person who obviously wants to continue to receive checks, are we loading the dice a little bit?"

After the discussion moved to Rangel, Kurtz recounted that Matthews recently wondered whether the New York Times was going after the Democratic Congressman because of his unethical acts or because he had angered them with some legislative action. The CNN host soon added: "But Matthews went on to say, ‘I've loved the guy,’ Charlie Rangel, ‘for years. I feel like recusing myself.’ But do you think this Rangel story got enough attention? All the networks covered it. NBC Nightly News is the only one that did a full story."

The left-leaning Carlson soon acknowledged the media’s negative feelings toward Bunning as a contrast with press affection for Rangel, with either Kurtz or Stirewalt – or possibly both men – voicing agreement that Rangel would have been gone earlier if not for his popularity:

MARGARET CARLSON: And if he weren't loved – he's the opposite of Bunning – if he weren't loved by Chris Matthews and others, he would have been gone.

INDISCERNIBLE MALE VOICE: He would have been gone.

INDISCERNIBLE MALE VOICE: Oh, he would have been gone long ago.

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Sunday, March 7, Reliable Sources on CNN, with critical portions in bold:

HOWARD KURTZ: Jim Bunning is a former Major League pitcher, and, lately, writes Dana Milbank, he's been throwing screwballs. The retiring Kentucky Senator can definitely be cranky and seems to have no patience for the press. In fact, he gave a television producer a middle finger salute the other day. But did Bunning deserve to be portrayed as a heartless fiend intent on snatching away jobless benefits from the unemployed? Take a look at this report and the way he dealt with ABC's Jonathan Karl.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Sir, we just wanted to ask you-

SENATOR JIM BUNNING (R-KY): Excuse me, this is a Senator-only elevator.

KARL: Can I come on the elevator?

BUNNING: No, you may not.

KARL: Can you tell us why you're blocking this vote?

BUNNING: I already did.

KARL: We wanted to ask the Senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 340,000 Americans, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas, who has been out of work for two years.

KURTZ: MSNBC's liberal pundits pounded Bunning hour after hour. While he got little attention on Fox News, though, Sean Hannity cheered him for taking on the rest of the Senate.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: You know, those lousy unemployed people lazing around, loving being unemployed. Jim Bunning, you're a hero for cutting them off without any rational explanation whatsoever.

SEAN HANNITY, FNC, CLIP #1: What Senator Bunning said is, look, I'm going to stand up against this, we can't afford it, we're stealing from our kids and grandkids.

HANNITY CLIP #2: Senator, you've become a hero over the last week. Welcome to the program.

KURTZ: So have the media acted as an impartial umpire or a thrown at Bunning's head? Joining us now to talk about that and coverage of some other political stories, here in Washington, Margaret Carlson, chief political columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of the Week magazine. And Chris Stirewalt, political editor at the Washington Examiner. Margaret, Jim Bunning is an irascible character, but did the media give a fair hearing to his argument, which was Congress was going to extend $10 billion in jobless benefits without paying for it?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: We gave a fair hearing to baseball metaphors, which you just did in your intro.

KURTZ: Guilty.

CARLSON: He's irresistible in that, yes, he did throw a perfect game, and, yes, he is colorful in the sense that he's just openly cranky. The reason there was a side story to this, which is it was Republicans that felt he was heartless and clueless in that they were ruining, he went rogue on them by doing this obstructionism which wasn't in the playbook. Republicans are choreographing their filibusters. And although this wasn't a filibuster – it was a non-unanimous consent – it didn't fit into the program. And so we jumped on it because it was much more colorful than the others.

KURTZ: When the television reports go from Senator Bunning on the floor, clearly ticking off his colleagues, to some poor unemployed person who obviously wants to continue to receive checks, are we loading the dice a little bit?

CHRIS STIREWALT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, sure, and, you know, look, this story was catnip for a couple reasons. One, you have somebody who is openly disdainful of Washington. You have a member of the United States Senate who hates both parties, hates Washington-

KURTZ: And openly disdainful of the press.

STIREWALT: Right.

KURTZ: It was day after day, as we saw with Jonathan Karl, when he just literally and figuratively had given the bird to reporters.

STIREWALT: Exactly. And he perfectly fits the narrative of this moment. And the narrative of the moment is Washington’s broken. And here is Mr. Breaking Washington. So he fits perfectly. But the other reason it was catnip was that four reporters to get the finger from Jim Bunning is going to be a badge of honor that you will wear on your-

CARLSON: If only we could have, yeah.

STIREWALT: Exactly. So you have all these people running after him like a pack of barking dogs, running down the hallways, hoping that, like Byron Wolf, they're going to get the finger from Jim Bunning so they can say I got it, man, it was me, too.

CARLSON: Yes. It's our perfect game.

STIREWALT: Right, exactly.

KURTZ: But in terms of the substantive argument here, it took some liberal pundits to point out that while Bunning was going haywire over Congress spending this money on the unemployed without coming up with the revenue, that he's voted for lots of bills during the Republican presidency – the Bush tax cuts, Medicare drug benefit – that weren't paid for.

CARLSON: And the very law he's citing, pay-go, he didn't vote for it, so that’s a-

KURTZ: Pay-go is a Democratic attempt to make Congress-

CARLSON: Make you pay for what you spend.

KURTZ: As opposed to just more deficit spending.

CARLSON: More deficit spending. So, if he had, he would have had a better rationale for picking on the unemployed. And one of his few supporters, Senator Kyl, is saying, and, by the way, we're not moving on these unemployed until we get that last .25 percent of the estate tax killed – 99.8, gone. So, you're juxtaposing the unemployed, the teacher at the computer that we had in our intro, and the estate tax.

STIREWALT: I think Senator Bunning, for a person who hates the media and doesn't usually do very well when it comes to it, did this very well. I thought he ended up doing a very good job of this. He took it right up to the brink, and he forced this vote where you get 53 Democrats going on the record and voting and saying I refuse to pay for this $10 billion even when his amendment would have paid for it by eliminating a special tax for the paper industry.

CARLSON: He overshadowed his accomplishment.

KURTZ: He certainly didn't look good in the press coverage, despite what you say was something you see as positive.

STIREWALT: I think in the end it's a wash, perhaps a lean positive for the Republicans because I think Democrats overplayed their hand, they brought in as many sob stories as they possibly could to try to crush Bunning, nobody lost their benefits, there was not the interruption.

KURTZ: Well, some thousands of federal workers were furloughed for at least a couple days. All right, let me turn to Charlie Rangel, who was forced to give up the chairmanship of the House, powerful House Ways and Means Committee after the Ethics Committee found that he had accepted some corporate-paid trips to Caribbean getaways. And it brought an interesting bit of analysis. Mostly liberals were not defending Congressman Rangel, but an interesting bit of analysis from Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: What is it that has led, for example, the New York Times, I'm always skeptical of motive, excuse me for that, I don't think all journalism’s objective, why have they been pounding this guy? Is it because of what he did, or did he vote wrong on something?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, Chris, I think it was journalism.

KURTZ: Why is Chris Matthews going after the Times? The Times reported the facts.

CARLSON: They did. And also, this is their hometown guy. So they would, I guess, in Chris's view, over-cover it. There were many other things than this one particular trip to the Caribbean that Charlie Rangel was accused of.

KURTZ: He's got other problems that haven't been resolved.

CARLSON: He has other problems, and it looks like he's been hanging on at a time when it looks like the pendulum could swing towards "Democrats are corrupt, too." That's how Republicans lost. They don't want that in 2012.

KURTZ: Well, David Paterson and other Democrats getting involved in problems. That could be a problem. But Matthews went on to say, "I've loved the guy," Charlie Rangel, "for years. I feel like recusing myself." But do you think this Rangel story got enough attention? All the networks covered it. NBC Nightly News is the only one that did a full story.

STIREWALT: Well, I think that it became so commonplace, the knowledge that Charlie Rangel had ethical problems, that this, in the end, was sort of like a denouement. It wasn't an explosion. It was, at the end, well, at long last, Charlie Rangel is finally going to slink out after what was a very sort of shocking two-or-three-year run where you have these ethical charges piling up and piling up. And the fact that the Democrats learned the lesson from 2006 with the Republicans that says you've got to act, you've got to dump that weight, and in this case Charlie Rangel was dead weight for the caucus.

CARLSON: And if he weren't loved – he's the opposite of Bunning – if he weren't loved by Chris Matthews and others, he would have been gone.

INDISCERNIBLE MALE VOICE: He would have been gone.

INDISCERNIBLE MALE VOICE: Oh, he would have been gone long ago.