With Chris Wallace’s Help, ABC and NBC Paint Bachmann as Fact-Challenged ‘Flake’

All three broadcast network evening newscasts awarded full stories Monday night to Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign announcement, with ABC and NBC unable to resist pouncing on Chris Wallace’s “are you a flake?” question to frame their stories. ABC’s Jonathan Karl highlighted how she’s “been accused of being loose with the facts, saying, for example, that the President's last trip to India was costing taxpayers $200 million a day. That's why Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace says he asked her” the “flake” question.

On NBC, Kelly O’Donnell also played the Wallace clip before focusing on how Bachmann “has been embarrassed by a string of factual errors, like placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in the wrong state. She missed the mark again in our interview, bringing up an unrelated and incorrect claim about her hometown.” (That would be about John Wayne’s birthplace.)


O’Donnell soon turned petty, shall we say, in blaming Bachmann for something that better falls in the category of liberal pettiness:

When Bachmann left the stage here, her campaign played the Tom Petty hit song American Girl. Turns out Petty isn't pleased. His manager says they will ask the Bachmann campaign not to use that song. They also asked George W. Bush not to use any of his music, but Hillary Clinton did use American Girl throughout her campaign in 2008.

In his World News piece, Karl showed Bachmann point to her spin as she touted her “titanium spine,” which prompted Karl to try to undercut her enthusiasm: “Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant, said that you have a better chance of landing on Jupiter than becoming President.”

Karl also couldn’t let go of Bachmann’s 2008 remark that Barack Obama “might have un-American views.”

CBS’s Jan Crawford managed to avoid anything about factual errors and even refrained from playing the Wallace “flake” question as she noted Bachmann’s “early rise in the polls suggest she's striking a chord with people who are sick of Washington.”

From the June 27 ABC World News:

JONATHAN KARL: Michele Bachmann is taking Iowa by storm. Making it official with the kind of feistiness that has made her a Tea Party hero.

MICHELE BACHMANN: We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama.

KARL: Once considered a fringe candidate, Bachmann starts as the front-runner in first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa. Bachmann has something of a home-field advantage in Iowa. She grew up right in this house in downtown Waterloo, lived here with her three brothers until she was 12 years old. Bachmann brags about being an uncompromising conservative. She told us she has a titanium spine.

KARL TO BACHMANN: Now, is there a suggestion some of those other Republicans running don’t exactly have titanium spines?

BACHMANN: All I know is I have one. I have a titanium spine. I am bold, I've taken on not only the opposing party but I've taken on my own party many times as well because I stand for principle.

KARL, TO BACHMANN: Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant, said that you have a better chance of landing on Jupiter than becoming President.

BACHMANN: I must have missed that. I never heard that.

KARL: Now you're here, you're tied for the lead in Iowa. I mean, do you see this happening?

BACHMANN: Sure I see it happening, absolutely, I see it happening.

KARL: Her brand of conservative politics has often generated controversy, as when she said this about President Obama.

BACHMANN ON MSNBC’S HARDBALL IN 2008: I’m very concerned that he might have un-American views.

KARL: She's also been accused of being loose with the facts, saying, for example, that the President's last trip to India was costing taxpayers $200 million a day. That's why Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace says he asked her this:

CHRIS WALLACE, JUNE 26 FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Are you a flake?

BACHMANN ON THAT SHOW: Well, I think that would be insulting, to say something like that.

KARL: Wallace later apologized. But does Bachmann accept? We asked as one of her aides cut off our interview. Do you accept his apology? He apologized.



BACHMANN: Those are the small issues. I'm focused on the big ones.

KARL: Bachmann is now off to New Hampshire, a place where she has a steeper climb and, unlike Iowa, no hometown roots.

NBC Nightly News:

KELLY O’DONNELL: ...The 55-year-old Minnesota Congresswoman, known for her fire brand conservative style-

MICHELE BACHMANNL We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama.

O’DONNELL: -clearly trying to broaden her appeal beyond social conservatives. Bachmann emphasized that she0was once a Democrat.

BACHMANN: Our problems don't have an identity of party. They are problems that were created by both parties.

O’DONNELL: Bachmann attracts plenty of criticism and it can get personal. She was asked this on Sunday.

CHRIS WALLACE ON FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Are you a flake?

BACHMANN, ON THAT SHOW: Well I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I'm a serious person.

O’DONNELL: Chris Wallace later apologized to viewers. Bachmann, who has recently begun stressing her background as a tax attorney and small business owner, has been embarrassed by a string of factual errors, like placing the battles of Lexington and Concord in the wrong state. She missed the mark again in our interview, bringing up an unrelated and incorrect claim about her hometown.

BACHMANN: Another American who was born in Waterloo, Iowa was John Wayne.

O’DONNELL: Iowans say it's widely known here that actor John Wayne was born about 150 miles away in Winterset. Bachmann told me she expects greater scrutiny and needs to be more careful.

BACHMANN: I will make mistakes, it will happen. But I will tell you, to the very best of my ability I'll try and get everything right that is coming out of my mouth.

O’DONNELL: And details matter. When Bachmann left the stage here, her campaign played the Tom Petty hit song American Girl. Turns out Petty isn't pleased. His manager says they will ask the Bachmann campaign not to use that song. They also asked George W. Bush not to use any of his music, but Hillary Clinton did use American Girl throughout her campaign in 2008.

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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