ABC’s Chutzpah: Scolds Congress for ‘Pay-Go’ Spending When It Made Jim Bunning an Ogre for Trying to Block It

Three months after the networks, led by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, derided Senator Jim Bunning for daring to hold up an “emergency” spending bill which circumvented the “pay as you go” rules, as Karl made a fool of himself chasing the elderly Senator into elevators to cajole him to give in, on Monday’s World News Karl had the chutzpah to scold Congress for approving “emergency” spending which doesn’t have to follow those very same “pay-go” rules.

“Congress is on its holiday break this week,” fill-in anchor George Stephanopoulos announced, “but there is no break in the steady increase in the national debt, now up to an astounding $13 trillion.” Stephanopoulos promised that in “watching out for your money, Jonathan Karl found some of the culprits” – though neither cited the news media’s role in incessantly pushing for more spending.

Without displaying any self-awareness of his own hypocrisy, Karl listed some of “the ‘emergency’ bills Congress has taken up over the past few months,” including “$20 billion for highway construction.” Yet back in early March, Karl fretted: “Bunning is also blocking money for highway construction. So across the country today, 41 construction projects ground to a halt, thousands of workers furloughed without pay.”

The next night, anchor Diane Sawyer had asserted: “Republican Senator Jim Bunning still has Congress under blockade. For another day, he's kept thousands of unemployed workers from getting their benefits and forced some highway construction projects to stop.”

From March 1: “Bunning's Spending Hold Makes Him a Cad to TV Nets, Focus on His Supposed Victims
A retiring Senator not facing re-election stood up last week for principle, insisting new federal spending be covered by a matching reduction elsewhere, but instead of hailing Senator Jim Bunning as a “maverick” making sure the ruling party adheres to its promise new spending will be “paid for,” television network journalists on Monday night painted him as an ogre, focusing on the presumed victims of delayed spending.

Teasing World News, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer stressed how he’s “denying” people unemployment benefits so ABC decided to “confront” him: “One man's stand. A single Senator stops the whole Congress, denying thousands of people unemployment benefits. We confront him to ask why.” Sawyer framed the story around how Bunning is blocking “life support for the unemployed.”

Reporter Jon Karl concentrated on victims as he played video of himself confronting Bunning by an elevator: “We wanted to ask the Senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 340,000 Americas, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas who has been out of work for two years.” That’s not all: “Bunning is also blocking money for highway construction. So across the country today, 41 construction projects ground to a halt, thousands of workers furloughed without pay.”
From March 2: “ABC Berates Bunning's 'Politics of No' for Causing Unemployed to 'Struggle' and Lose Homes
For the second straight night, ABC's World News scolded Senator Jim Bunning for daring to block a $10 billion spending bill until it is offset by cuts elsewhere, parading out victims as Diane Sawyer and Jonathan Karl painted him as a nuisance “even fellow Republicans” – that would be a liberal one – oppose. (After the EST broadcast, news broke that Bunning has agreed to some sort of deal.)

Sawyer thundered in teasing her top story: “Tonight on World News, the 'Politics of No.' For the second straight day, one Senator stymies Congress, unemployed Americans struggle and we track that Senator down again.” Sawyer led:
Good evening. Even his fellow Republicans have asked him to stop, but Republican Senator Jim Bunning still has Congress under blockade. For another day, he's kept thousands of unemployed workers from getting their benefits and forced some highway construction projects to stop.
Karl treated the Senator as a child (“Jim Bunning was at it again today”) before he showcased an “unemployed microbiologist in Texas” who, Karl ludicrously relayed -- just two weekdays after unemployment benefits were stopped -- “says no unemployment check will mean she will have to move out of her house” while “Bret Ingersoll of Denver is an unemployed forklift operator, who has already lost his apartment.” So, “today even fellow Republicans were asking Senator Bunning to relent.” That would be Maine's Susan Collins.

After showing video of himself chasing the elderly Bunning while demanding to know “when will those people begin to see help?”, Karl concluded by asserting that “even as Democrats complain about Bunning's behavior, they are thrilled with the political fallout here, happy to be fighting an unpopular Senator over a bill that's got a lot of popular support.”
Plus, from March 3: “ABC's Jonathan Karl Continues to Slam Bunning for Creating a 'Mess,' 'Snapping at Reporters'”

From the Monday, May 31, Memorial Day edition of ABC’s World News:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Congress is on its holiday break this week, but there is no break in the steady increase in the national debt, now up to an astounding $13 trillion. You might have noticed both parties talking more about the deficit lately, but the debt just keeps on  climbing. Watching out for your money, Jonathan Karl found some of the culprits.

JONATHAN KARL: How much is $13 trillion? If you placed 13 trillion $1 dollar bills end to end, you could create a line extending all the way to Jupiter and back. It took the federal government 206 years to hit the first trillion dollars in debt and to go from 12 trillion to 13 trillion, just six months.

SENATOR KENT CONRAD (D): We will have a debt, on the course we’re on, of 400 percent of our Gross Domestic Product and that will bury us.

KARL: In February, President Obama signed a law that was supposed to do something about this. It's called the Pay as You Go Act.

PRESIDENT OBAMA, FEBRUARY 13: It says to Congress, you have to pas as you go. You can't spend a dollar unless you cut a dollar elsewhere.

KARL: Since then Congress has passed about $230 billion in new spending that is not paid for.

KARL TO SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID: How can you expect to have any credibility talking about debt and deficit when we continue to see such high levels of deficit spending?

REID: First of all, we have initiated the pay go rules. I think we deserve a lot of credit for that.

KARL: Deficit spending-

REID: Let me answer your questions, okay? We have some emergencies. Emergencies come up.

KARL: Webster defines “emergency” as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances.” In Congress, emergency means “you don’t need to pay for it.” The “emergency” bills Congress has taken up over the past few months include $20 billion for highway construction, $54 million for tax breaks for TV and movie production costs, $67 million in payments to Filipino World War II vets and $15 million in aid to the Congo.

It all adds up, of course. While you were watching this story, the national debt went up about $3 million. Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Capitol Hill.
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