'Today' Labels Larry Craig Scandal a 'Conservative Crisis'

For NBC's "Today" show crew it wasn't enough to label Larry Craig's scandal as a crisis for him personally or even to call it a crisis for the Republican Party, no "Today" went even further as it declared it a "crisis" for conservatives everywhere. NBC's Matt Lauer opened the Tuesday "Today" show asking his viewers: "Can the right wing withstand yet another scandal involving one of its own?"

Lauer's colleague Ann Curry, then piled on, as she wondered if the Craig incident spelled doom for the GOP's chances in ‘08: "How does this specter of hypocrisy affect the party, especially as we're now moving into a very critical time for the Republican Party facing this presidential election year?"

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Curry also listed scandals involving those linked to conservatives as if to blame the movement itself for the GOP's troubles: "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?"

In fact, the "Today" team couldn't contain their glee in casting this story as a problem for the conservative movement as it applied the terms "conservative" or "right wing" to it's coverage of Craig, a whopping seven times, within the first nine minutes of the show.

The following is a complete transcript of Lauer and Curry's teasers, followed by Bob Faw's report, along with Curry's interview of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough as they occurred on the August 28th edition of Today:

Matt Lauer: "Good morning, politician in peril. Idaho Senator Larry Craig, an opponent of gay rights, admits pleading guilty to disorderly conduct after a police officer accused him of soliciting sex in an airport men's room. Can the right-wing withstand yet another scandal involving one of its own?"

...

Ann Curry: "What a shocker! Idaho Senator Larry Craig's political future is in some serious doubt this morning."

Lauer: "It's a confusing story. On Monday, word leaked out that the conservative Republican was arrested and pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a sex sting at the men's room at the Minneapolis airport. A police officer, who was sitting in a stall there, says that Craig tried to solicit him for sex. Now Craig denies it and now says that he regrets pleading guilty. Is this another major setback for the Republican Party? We'll have more on that in just a moment."

...

Lauer: "But first the arrest of Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, says that Craig was arrested in June at the Minneapolis airport after a plain-clothed officer noticed him peering into his stall, then putting his foot and hand underneath the divider, supposedly a sign that he wanted to engage in lewd conduct. Now last year a gay activist Web site publicly claimed Craig is a homosexual. His office denied it. So is the gay-rights opponent living a double-life or is he just the victim of a big misunderstanding. Here's NBC's Bob Faw."

Sen. Larry Craig: "That is not the role of the United States Senate to draw that kind of line-"

[On screen headline: "Conservative Crisis, 'Lewd Behavior' Plea for Senator."]

Bob Faw: "Craig, a conservative Republican said in a statement issued late Monday, that he did nothing inappropriate and that quote, 'in hindsight, I should not have pled guilty,' to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for alleged lewd behavior, observed by an undercover policeman in a public restroom at a Minneapolis airport in June. While Craig, who last year denied he was homosexual, says airport police quote, 'were misconstruing my actions,' his defense might prove somewhat, unpersuasive, back in conservative Idaho."

Jennifer Duffy, The Cook Political Report: "I think it is going to be increasingly difficult for him to run for reelection and I think the question needs to be posed about whether he can actually finish out this term. At some point conservatives are going to say, 'enough is enough.'"

Craig: "A 1,038 square miles of fire-"

Faw: "In other words, the political fallout could be more painful than the penalties, a fine of $575 and a year's probation imposed on Craig in his guilty pleas earlier this month. For Today, Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington."

Ann Curry: "Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough is the host of Morning Joe on MSNBC. Joe, good morning."

Joe Scarborough: "Good morning."

Curry: "Well let's talk about the political fallout. 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?"

Scarborough: "What's with the Republican Party? And before that you can talk about Duke Cunningham apparently having poker parties where reports were that they were trading votes for sex. I don't know. You can talk about the closeted Republican that votes like Larry Craig, that votes for a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage or votes against protections for discriminating against gays in the workplace. Perhaps they are more closeted, perhaps the Republican Party does not allow gay members to win their primaries. So maybe these guys have to live these secret lives where on the Democratic side, you've got Democrats, I think it, it comes down to hypocrisy. Mainly where you have Democrats that will support same-sex marriage or civil unions and will fight to stop discrimination in the workplace against gays and lesbians. Because of that there are the issues of hypocrisy that follow Republicans around, whether you're talking about David Vitter or whether you're talking about Larry Craig or whether you're talking about Mark Foley."

Curry: "Well the question, I think is, you know, how does this specter of hypocrisy affect the party, especially as we're now moving into a very critical time for the Republican Party facing this presidential election year?"

Scarborough: "Well it's, it's very simple. You know, last year people were talking about the war, they were talking about runaway deficit spending but the bottom-line is, with the Republicans that I spoke to, after the Mark Foley scandal broke, they looked at each other and said, 'Well, that's it. We're gonna have a Democratic Senate and we're gonna have a Democratic House and because of Mark Foley, Nancy Pelosi is gonna be Speaker of the House.' So, of course, you can't blame Mark Foley for everything but there were these scandals following Jack Abramoff, following Duke Cunningham. Following-"

Curry: "Point taken Joe, but what's the impact going to be if that's what happened after Mark Foley came, faced the scandal? What's going to happen now, regarding, after this Senator's, what he's facing."

Scarborough: "Well it's not, it's not a good impact. It's not gonna have a great impact on Idaho. I think, you know, I just don't think a Democrat can be elected for the U.S. Senate in Idaho but Larry Craig's career is probably over. The former 'Singing Senator,' is gonna be singing alone in Idaho, probably next year. But the bigger impact with the Republican Party in America will be like the Tory Party in Great Britain when they had one sex scandal after another. There is a sleaze, an element of sleaze that will hang over this party. Because, again, we had the David Vitter scandal a couple of months ago. The two sex scandals, this year, have involved Republicans, conservative, pro-family, pro-life Republicans."

Curry: "It's also interesting to note, Joe, that Senator Craig has been a co-liaison to the, in the Senate, to the Mitt Romney campaign."

Scarborough: "Yeah."

Curry: "So the question is, also, is this gonna spill over?"

Scarborough: "Well you know, I don't think anybody would blame Mitt Romney for what Larry Craig did in a bathroom in Minneapolis because of Larry Craig's, as he says, 'unusually wide-stance.' That he wasn't sending signals. But what this does bring up for Mitt Romney is a problem about his flip-flops. His flip-flops on abortion, his flip-flops on gun control and his flip-flop on gay rights. So, you have a guy like Larry Craig, who's on your campaign, at least for 24 hours in this news cycle, will raise questions. Well Mitt Romney do you support same-sex marriage this week or do you oppose same-sex marriage this week? And I suspect after that it'll all blow over. The biggest problem, though, again, has to do with hypocrisy and the Republican Party. And right now you've got Larry Craig linked with Mark Foley, linked with David Vitter, linked with Duke Cunningham going, my gosh, I think every sex scandal in Washington D.C., since Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky has involved a Republican. And that has to have an impact and may break the Republican Party, again, just a little bit more away from its evangelical base."

Curry: "And, and Joe, I was gonna remind people, you are a Republican. You are a former Republican congressman, so those are very strong words and opinion from you. Joe Scarborough, thank you so much this morning."

Scarborough: "Always good to remind my Republican friends, that yes I am a Republican. Doesn't sound like it. Thanks a lot."

Curry laughing: "It is now 7:08am. Now once again, here's Matt."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.