Holder Hailed, But in 2000 Ashcroft Marked as Sop to 'Far Right'

Eight years ago when incoming President George W. Bush named Senator John Ashcroft as his choice for Attorney General, the broadcast network evening newscasts applied ideological labels and highlighted opposition to him from liberals, but Tuesday night with President-elect Barack Obama's pick of Eric Holder for the same position, the anchors avoided any ideological tags or controversies and hailed him as an “historic” pick which fulfills Obama's promise of “diversity.”

ABC's Charles Gibson noted Obama's promise of “diversity of political party, of gender, of geography and of race” and reported “Eric Holder would be the first African-American” Attorney General. In December of 2000, the late Peter Jennings stressed how Ashcroft is “from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. And some of the positions he's taken as a politician have galvanized liberal opposition to his nomination today.”

Katie Couric, on CBS, trumpeted Holder as “another historic choice,” but eight years ago Dan Rather decided “anti-abortion groups and the self-described Religious Right could not be happier” with Ashcroft who is “known for his tough anti-abortion stand. Planned Parenthood immediately urged Congress not to confirm him.”

On NBC, Brian Williams simply summarized Holder's resume as “a veteran lawyer, former U.S. Attorney, number two person at the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. If confirmed, Eric Holder would be the first African-American to become the nation's top law enforcement officer.” Filling in for Tom Brokaw in 2000, Williams referred to Ashcroft as a “conservative Missouri Republican Senator” and asserted the selection “calms the far right politically.”

The subsequent stories on Holder, none of which applied any ideological tags or cited his position on abortion,  all did point out the controversy over his role in President Clinton's pardon of the fugitive Marc Rich that wasn't mentioned in the introductions from the anchors. In Clinton's second term, Holder served as Deputy Attorney General.

Network-by-network comparisons from Friday, December 22, 2000 (as recounted on the December 26, 2000 MRC CyberAlert which has more on coverage that night of the selection delayed by the elongated post-election day battles) versus Tuesday, November 18, 2008:

ABC:

2000, World News Tonight. Anchor Peter Jennings opened the show by stressing liberal opposition:
George W. Bush has chosen the person he wants to be Attorney General. He is the 58-year old soon to be former Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri. Senator Ashcroft lost his bid for re-election this year. The Senator is a former law professor and former Attorney General of Missouri and Governor -- from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. And some of the positions he’s taken as a politician have galvanized liberal opposition to his nomination today.
2008, World News. Charles Gibson:
Since he was elected, Barack Obama has largely been staying out of public view, working on his cabinet. He has signaled that in the cabinet, there will be diversity, diversity of political party, of gender, of geography and of race. Today, ABC News has learned he will turn to one of his close associates to be the new Attorney General. If confirmed, Eric Holder would be the first African-American to hold that post.
CBS Evening News.

2000, Dan Rather began:
Good evening. Anti-abortion groups and the self-described Religious Right could not be happier with President-elect George Bush’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General. Bush today named John Ashcroft, a just-defeated Republican Senator from Missouri known for his tough anti-abortion stand. Planned Parenthood immediately urged Congress not to confirm him. Bush also named New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, who supports abortion rights, for a post with no role in abortion policy. She was picked to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
2008, Katie Couric:
And now to the incoming Obama administration, which takes over in nine weeks. The President-elect made his first cabinet selection today. Chip Reid is in Washington and, Chip, it's another historic choice.
NBC Nightly News.

2000, fill-in anchor Brian Williams led the broadcast by emphasizing Ashcroft’s appeal to the "far right" of the GOP:
America’s second ever Bush administration is taking shape tonight with the naming of a GOP veteran to a crucial position. If confirmed, conservative Missouri Republican Senator John Ashcroft will be this nation’s next Attorney General. With this move Mr. Bush rewards a defeated U.S. Senator, calms the far right politically and makes a decidedly law and order statement.
2008, Williams:
Now we turn to the presidential transition and word today that Barack Obama has made his choice for Attorney General. He is Eric Holder, a veteran lawyer, former U.S. Attorney, number two person at the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. If confirmed, Eric Holder would be the first African-American to become the nation's top law enforcement officer.
Looks like Williams is wearing the same tie in 2000 and 2008 -- or at least likes similar-looking purple ones.
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