ABC the Most Negative Before SOTU Address: State of the Union “Sour”

Of the three broadcast network evening newscasts on Tuesday, ABC’s World News Tonight delivered the most downbeat take on the public attitude facing President Bush as he delivers his State of the Union (SOTU) address. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas framed the evening around how Bush “is coming off the worst year of his presidency, from the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, to record-high energy prices, to growing unhappiness with the war in Iraq.” George Stephanopoulos soon insisted that “the country is just in a sour mood,” as evidenced by Bush’s 42 percent approval rating, “ten points below where it was last year.” Stephanopoulos added: “And for the first time in his presidency, a majority of Americans...want to follow congressional Democrats rather than President Bush: 51-35.” Stephanopoulos, however, did allow that “on the other hand, President Bush is still very strong on national security.” (Transcript follows.)

The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the January 31 World News Tonight. From Washington, DC, with the White House behind her, anchor Elizabeth Vargas led her broadcast:
"Good evening. We are in Washington in anticipation of the President's State of the Union address tonight. Even before he takes the microphone at the nation's capital, it already has been a very eventful day here. The Senate confirmed Judge Samuel Alito as the newest Supreme Court justice, a political triumph for President Bush. Tonight's speech will be his sixth annual address to Congress. He is coming off the worst year of his presidency, from the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, to record-high energy prices, to growing unhappiness with the war in Iraq. Tonight, the President seeks to seize control of the agenda and set a new course for the year ahead."

Following a preview of the speech from Martha Raddatz, Vargas turned to George Stephanopoulos at the Capitol:
Vargas: "The President faces some formidable political challenges tonight. We're joined now by ABC's chief Washington correspondent, George Stephanopoulos, and, George, as we said, 2005 has taken a real toll on the President. Just how big are his challenges? How does he expect to turn this around tonight?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, Elizabeth, the country is just in a sour mood. Coming into this speech tonight, the President's approval rating is at 42 percent, ten points below where it was last year. And for the first time in his presidency, a majority of Americans believe, want to follow congressional Democrats rather than President Bush: 51-35. On the other hand, President Bush is still very strong on national security, which is why, as Martha pointed out, he's going to put a real focus on that tonight."

Vargas: "He really faces several audiences tonight. Among them, the nation at large as well as the Congressmen. Americans at home and congressmen sitting right in front of him. How difficult will it be to get those Congressmen, especially the Democrats, behind him, given the tenor and tone in Washington these days?"

Stephanopoulos: "Well, it is a real poisonous atmosphere up here. The President has helped himself with his conservative base. He had some trouble with them after Katrina, but the swearing in of Justice Alito today really helps firm them up. But the Democrats are going to be a huge problem for him. Elizabeth, you and I got a taste of that when we met with the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, today. Right out of the box, he told us, 'I expect the President to do exactly the opposite of what he says.’ There is just not a lot of trust up here right now."

Vargas: "Boy, there sure isn't. We saw it. All right, George Stephanopoulos, thanks so much."
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