CBS Uses 'Craig Scandal' to Exhibit How 'GOP Is Already Under a Cloud' of FBI Probes

In contrast to the morning shows which exploited the arrest of Republican Senator Larry Craig, on charges stemming from alleged lewd conduct in an airport men's room, as a chance to tar the “right wing,” “conservatives” and the “GOP,” with the notable exception of CBS, the broadcast network evening shows -- which all led Tuesday night with Craig -- refrained from using the matter to malign Republicans or conservatives. ABC and NBC kept the story to Craig himself as ABC's World News framed the story around the on-screen heading: “Defiant Senator.” The NBC Nightly News keyed its coverage to how “Senator Craig Speaks.”

In contrast, the CBS Evening News saw a “scandal,” with “Craig Scandal” as the on-screen title. Katie Couric teased: “Tonight, Senator Larry Craig caught in a sex sting says the only thing he did wrong was plead guilty.” She led by declaring “the story exploded on front pages all over America today: Another member of Congress caught up in a scandal, a sex scandal. Republican Senator Larry Craig caught in a police sting at the Minneapolis airport.” In the subsequent story, reporter Sharyl Attkisson highlighted how “the GOP is already under a cloud with FBI investigations of Congressmen Rick Renzi, John Doolittle, Don Young, and Senator Ted Stevens.” Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report, then helpfully explained: “The Republican brand at the moment is very weak. And what this does, this adds to the buzz about Republicans and what do Republicans believe, and are Republicans hypocrites.”

Tuesday morning NBC's Today show put “Conservative Crisis, 'Lewd Behavior' Plea for Senator,” on screen and Matt Lauer opened by asking his viewers: “Can the right wing withstand yet another scandal involving one of its own?” Ann Curry listed scandals involving those linked to conservatives: “First it's been a rough year for the right. Let's list them. Congressman Mark Foley, conservative pastor Ted Haggard, Senator David Vitter. All involved in scandals, accusing them of inappropriate conduct. So the question's gotta be asked, why do these kinds of scandals seem to be following Republicans, lately?” (Geoffrey Dickens' NB posting on the Today show.)

ABC's Bill Weir teased at the top of Good Morning America: “Is the GOP losing its grip?” (Scott Whitlock's NewsBusters item on GMA's coverage.)

A rundown of how the Tuesday, August 28 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts teased and introduced their lead stories:

CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC's TEASE, WITH “CRAIG SCANDAL” ON SCREEN: I'm Katie Couric. Tonight, Senator Larry Craig caught in a sex sting says the only thing he did wrong was plead guilty.

CRAIG: I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away.

COURIC: Fellow Republicans call for an ethics committee review....

COURIC, WITH “CRAIG SCANDAL” ON SCREEN: Hello, everyone. The story exploded on front pages all over America today: Another member of Congress caught up in a scandal, a sex scandal. Republican Senator Larry Craig caught in a police sting at the Minneapolis airport. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but now, on second thought, he says his conduct was just fine. In any case, fellow Republicans are calling for an investigation. We caution you, there are graphic details in this report from Sharyl Attkisson....

ATTKISSON: The GOP is already under a cloud with FBI investigations of Congressmen Rick Renzi, John Doolittle, Don Young, and Senator Ted Stevens.

STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: The Republican brand at the moment is very weak. And what this does, this adds to the buzz about Republicans and what do Republicans believe, and are Republicans hypocrites.

ABC's World News:

FILL-IN ANCHOR KATE SNOW's TEASE: Welcome to World News. Tonight, a defiant denial. The Senator arrested in an airport restroom says he is not gay and his only mistake was pleading guilty.

SNOW, WITH “DEFIANT SENATOR” ON SCREEN: Good evening. A Republican Senator is fighting to save his political career and personal reputation, tonight. Police records have surfaced revealing Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested by an undercover officer for soliciting sex. A short while ago, Craig was adamant about a news conference denying the accusations. He says the only thing he did wrong was to plead guilty in the hopes the incident would go away. It has not. ABC's David Kerley joins us from Washington....
NBC Nightly News, from Mississippi:
BRIAN WILLIAMS' TEASE: Speaking out. Tonight Senator Larry Craig is defiant.
LARRY CRAIG: I am not gay. I never have been gay.
WILLIAMS: He makes his first public statement since being arrested in a men's room, but now can he save his career?

WILLIAMS, WITH “SENATOR CRAIG SPEAKS” ON SCREEN: We begin this evening with a drama that is the talk of the nation's capital and the talk of the state of Idaho tonight. It is the story of a Republican United States Senator, arrested for an alleged sexual advance to an undercover police officer in an airport men's room in Minneapolis. But despite pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, a plea Senator Larry Craig says he should now not have made, the Senator loudly and publicly claimed today he is not gay. Our NBC News senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, has been following this story for us...
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