NBC's Williams Labels Leftists As “Religious Activists” & Cites “Cuts” in Money for Poor

A couple of left-wing groups organized a small protest outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to denounce imaginary “cuts” in spending on programs for the poor, but instead of properly labeling the protesters or pointing out how the “cuts” are nothing more than a slowing of the rate of long-soaring growths in the programs, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams saw non-ideological “religious activists” who were “arrested after a sit-in protesting a controversial Republican budget bill that will cut $42 billion from a range of federal programs, including health care for the poor and elderly, child care, student loans and food stamps."

Williams probably took his cue from AP reporter Elizabeth White, who led her dispatch by citing how “U.S. Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists who were protesting a House Republican budget plan's cuts in social programs...” She described Jim Wallis, “the event's organizer,” simply as the “founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners.” In fact, Sojourners, and co-sponsor Call to Renewal, are quite liberal. Even Wednesday's Washington Post, in a story previewing the protest, tagged Sojourners as a “liberal Christian journal.” Sojourners liked the AP story so much, they posted it on their Web site. (Lengthier transcripts, and an earlier example of NBC's hype of “cuts,” follow.)

Of course, due to the shoddy reporting which leaves out basic numbers on how much is currently being spent on a program compared to how much will be spent in future years -- with a measurement against forecast inflation -- it's hard to learn the reality of the “cuts.” But based on my experience of hearing media hype for decades about non-existent “cuts,” I'm confident all the House bill would do is make a slight reduction in the rate of spending growth, still allowing spending to rise faster than inflation.

NBC and Williams delivered the same “budget cut” distortions last month, as recounted in the Tuesday November 22 MRC CyberAlert. An excerpt:
Journalists remain unable to tell the difference between a slight reduction in increased spending and an actual spending cut. A budget bill, passed by the House very early Friday morning, the Cato Institute estimated, will provide for $7.75 trillion in entitlement spending over five years instead of $7.8 trillion, a mere 0.6 percent difference as the bill overall would reduce planned ever-rising federal spending over the next five years by a piddling one-third of one percent. Yet reporters saw disaster ahead. "The House narrowly approved a broad five-year budget plan early this morning that squeezes programs for the poor, for college students and for farmers," the Washington Post ominously warned. On Friday's Today, Ann Curry asserted: "During the night the House passed $50 billion in budget cuts by two votes. Opponents say the cuts will hurt the poor." CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer echoed the Post's spin about "cuts in programs for the poor, for farmers and students." The NBC Nightly News devoted a whole story to the "cuts" and how "Democrats charged Republicans with taking from the poor to give more tax cuts to the rich," but Chip Reid at least noted that "Republicans also say the bill doesn't really cut spending, it just slows the rate of spending growth."

But it's not just what Republicans "say," it's a fact and one that undermined the premise of Reid's story.

END of Excerpt

The brief December 14 NBC Nightly News item, in full, which Brian Williams read, after a story on a Katrina hearing, over video of protesters and a few being arrested:
"One more note here before we leave Capitol Hill tonight. More than one hundred religious activists were arrested after a sit-in protesting a controversial Republican budget bill that will cut $42 billion from a range of federal programs, including health care for the poor and elderly, child care, student loans and food stamps."


“More Than 100 Arrested in Capitol Protest” read Yahoo's headline over the Wednesday afternoon AP article from Elizabeth White. An excerpt from the top:
WASHINGTON - U.S. Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists who were protesting a House Republican budget plan's cuts in social programs when they refused to clear the entrance to a congressional office building Wednesday.

"These are political choices being made that are hurting low-income people," said Jim Wallis, the event's organizer and founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners. "Don't make them the brunt of your deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility."

Wallis called the House budget plan, which would produce $50 billion in savings over five years, "the real Christmas scandal," a reference to a campaign by some conservative Christian groups against the greeting "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Wallis, who was arrested, said the group had little complaint with a more modest Senate plan.

Outside in the frigid cold for several hours, more than 200 demonstrators sang religious and holiday songs, prayed aloud and chanted, "Stop the cuts." Those who were peacefully arrested and led away from the steps of the Cannon House Office Building faced booking and a $50 fine, said Sgt. Kimberly O'Brien, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.

The prayer vigil was one of dozens taking place around the country....
END of Excerpt

In a Wednesday Washington Post story, “A Religious Protest Largely From the Left: Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority,” reporters Jonathan Weisman and Alan Cooperman questioned why conservative Christians aren't upset by “cuts” in programs for the poor, but they did refer to “Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest...”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center