Word of the Night for the Public Mood: “Sour” -- Employed by ABC, CNN and Fox

Before President Bush’s Tuesday State of the Union address, at least three network reporters seemingly read from the same talking points as they described the public mood with the exact same word: “sour.” As noted in an earlier NewsBusters item, on World News Tonight, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos insisted that “the country is just in a sour mood.” About 90 minutes before Bush’s address, CNN’s Jeff Greenfield wondered “whether the President can connect with a populace that is in a sour, pessimistic mood?” He pointed out how “only Nixon, in the year of his resignation, had a lower job approval rating,” before echoing his earlier question: “I think the President would like the country to believe he feels their pain or at least their anxiety about health care, about jobs, about the whole sense that something's gone a little sour." Then on Fox, minutes before Bush began, Chris Wallace attributed the “sour” assessment to Bush as he predicted Bush would deliver a “presidential pep talk where he believes that the country has, the mood has turned sour -- sour on the war, sour on the economy, sour on the government's response to Katrina.” Afterward, Wallace described the speech as “tough in terms of the war in Iraq and people souring on that.” (Transcripts follow.)

# On the January 31 World News Tonight, as detailed in this NewsBusters item, George Stephanopoulos told anchor Elizabeth Vargas:
“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...”

# CNN’s The Situation Room, at about 7:25pm EST, as the group of reporters stood around a table:
Paula Zahn: "What are you looking for tonight in this speech?"

Jeff Greenfield: "Whether the President can connect with a populace that is in a sour, pessimistic mood. You know, I abhor most poll overemphasis, but there's a number in a recent poll that this network did. Have things gotten better or worse in the last five years? A nice general question, how do you feel? 64-28, worse. And except for terror, the President gets negative marks on every single issue. Only Nixon, in the year of his resignation, had a lower job approval rating, you know, for sixth year in office than this guy. So the question is, to quote what a former president never quite said, I think the President would like the country to believe he feels their pain or at least their anxiety about health care, about jobs, about the whole sense that something's gone a little sour."

Zahn: "And yet this is still being billed as a very optimistic speech."

Greenfield: "Oh yeah, I mean, you, I don't-"

Zahn: "Like a ‘feel your pain' and inspiring at the same time."

Greenfield: "Well, Jimmy Carter taught every future president you better not go in front of the country and tell people things are sour. You don't say that. It's not, it's almost literally un-American."

# Watching Fox’s State of the Union coverage, the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth caught remarks from Chris Wallace at his outdoor setting with Shepard Smith:
Wallace at 9:02pm EST: "I think what we're going to see tonight from the President is a pep talk, in a sense, a presidential pep talk where he believes that the country has, the mood has turned sour – sour on the war, sour on the economy, sour on the government's response to Katrina. And I think what you're going to get very much, Shep, is a sense of ‘can do,' that he's got a plan for victory in a Iraq, he's got a plan to confront the mullahs in Iran, he's going to have a domestic agenda..."

Wallace just after Bush finished: "I think you have to view it in the political context. This is a president who had a very rocky first year of his second term -- 2005 was, it was just tough. It was tough in terms of the war in Iraq and people souring on that, tough in terms of the anger that a lot of people felt with the failure of the government response to Katrina, tough with the increase in energy prices. And this was a President who was trying to turn that around, trying to say I've got a path for victory in Iraq, I've got a plan to lead the country forward, don't sour. It was, in a sense, a presidential pep talk."
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