CBS Suppressed Public Support for Arizona Law But Eager to Hype Public Disagreement with Wisconsin’s Walker

Last May when a CBS News poll first asked about Arizona’s immigration enforcement law and found majority support for it (52 percent), the CBS Evening News didn’t report the finding. Two months later, when backing jumped five points higher, the newscast gave it a sentence. And a month after that, when those favoring the Arizona law had risen to 59 percent in August, the evening newscast ignored that number and instead focused on how “Americans oppose building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero,” a story the network used to castigate Americans, pivoting to how that opposition and “controversies over new mosques in Wisconsin and Kentucky have led some to question is America becoming Islamophobic, a prejudice against Muslims?”

Now, with a CBS News/New York Times survey finding the public in sync with the CBS newsroom, and out of sync with conservatives, Katie Couric trumpeted in teasing Monday’s program: “Our new poll finds most Americans oppose cutting the pay, benefits and union rights of public employees.” She soon announced: “In a CBS News/New York Times poll out tonight, 56 percent of Americans say they oppose cutting the pay and benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits and 60 percent oppose taking away collective bargaining rights.”

Reporter Dean Reynolds emphasized “our new poll indicates [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker and like-minded Republican governors do not have public opinion on their side.” He repeated and expanded upon the numbers: “Added to the 56 percent who oppose cutting pay and benefits and the 60 percent who say government union workers should keep the right to bargain as a group, is the finding that more Americans think the pay and benefits of public workers are about right [36%] as opposed to those who think they're too high.”

Reynolds was also pleased to report “our poll found that when it comes to closing budget deficit the people actually do prefer paying higher taxes [40%] over reducing benefits [22%] or making specific spending cuts.”

Back on May 25, a CBS News poll was released which had asked:

As you may know, the state of Arizona recently passed a law that gives the police the power to question someone they have already stopped, detained, or arrested about their legal status in the country. The law requires people to produce documents verifying their status if asked. Do you think this law goes too far in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration, doesn't go far enough, or is about right?

“About right” answered 52 percent and 17 percent replied “not far enough.”

Couric didn’t utter a word that night about that discovery as she led the May 25 CBS Evening News:

Good evening, everyone. It’s been the dream of generations of Americans, that their children would have a better life than they did. But that dream apparently is fading. In a new CBS News poll, 61 percent say the country is heading in the wrong direction and half say they expect the future to be worse for the next generation. When the public is unhappy, the government often gets the blame and the President’s job approval rating has fallen to 47 percent. Those are the numbers, now listen to some of the people. Here’s Anthony Mason...

(More than six weeks later on a Saturday night, July 10, the CBS Evening News offered a sentence: “A recent CBS poll found a majority of Americans, 52 percent, support the law.”)

By mid-July, in the CBS News poll released on July 13, support for Arizona’s measure had jumped by five points to 57 percent. Couric went with how “as this crisis in the Gulf enters a 13th week, a CBS News poll out tonight finds more than half of Americans disapprove of how President Obama is handling it.” Dean Reynolds squeezed in one sentence about Arizona: “The administration’s opposition to the tough new Arizona immigration law goes against the national grain, too, with 57 percent believing the law has it about right in dealing with illegal immigration.”

By the time another CBS News poll was released on August 25, support for Arizona was up to 59 percent, but the CBS Evening News skipped that finding and decided to lecture viewers about their misguided view of the Ground Zero mosque. An August 26 BiasAlert, “CBS Uses Opposition to Ground Zero Mosque to Lecture About 'America Becoming Islamophobic,'” recounted:

“A CBS News poll out tonight finds that seven of ten [71%] Americans oppose building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero,” fill-in CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor announced Wednesday night, but instead of exploring why most think it’s inappropriate to build there, Glor pivoted to how that and “controversies over new mosques in Wisconsin and Kentucky have led some to question is America becoming Islamophobic, a prejudice against Muslims?”


From the Monday, February 28 CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: Now to those protests in Wisconsin over plans by the Republican Governor to cut the compensation of public employees and limit their right to negotiate with the state as a group -- which is known as collective bargaining. In a CBS News/New York Times poll out tonight, 56 percent of Americans say they oppose cutting the pay and benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits and 60 percent oppose taking away collective bargaining rights. More from Dean Reynolds.

PROTESTER: Scott Walker has got to go!

DEAN REYNOLDS: The Madison protests are not slowing down but Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is giving no ground.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: The facts are the law is on our side. We have a right to do this to the statutes and that's what we're doing.

REYNOLDS: He may have the law but our new poll indicates Walker and like-minded Republican governors do not have public opinion on their side. Added to the 56 percent who oppose cutting pay and benefits and the 60 percent who say government union workers should keep the right to bargain as a group, is the finding that more Americans think the pay and benefits of public workers are about right [36%] as opposed to those who think they're too high [26%]. The demand from conservatives for union sacrifice has been a staple of news coverage for weeks, augmented lately by corporate donations and ad campaigns.

RADIO AD: Our state budget's in big trouble and it's only fair that everyone pays their fair share. Government workers, too.

REYNOLDS: That's an argument that resonates with some.

WOMAN: Everybody has to make some concessions because nobody wants to pay higher taxes.

CBSEN-raisetaxes-2011-02-28-240.jpgREYNOLDS: But our poll found that when it comes to closing budget deficit the people actually do prefer paying higher taxes [40%] over reducing benefits [22%] or making specific spending cuts [20%]. That surprised New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican and strong advocate of big benefit cuts for government workers. He was skeptical about our poll's findings.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I understand for you guys it's an entertaining story and you want to keep it going so I'm sure you word it had poll in a way that kept it going.

REYNOLDS: But this is the second major national poll in a week to find that the public has less appetite for limiting the rights and benefits of unions than many of the politicians they elected.

— Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

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