ABC, CBS and NBC Reluctant to Attach Obama's Name to AP Scandal

While the Big Three (ABC, CBS and NBC) networks have all done stories on the Obama administration's seizure of Associated Press (AP) reporters phone records, what is striking is their reluctance to attach Barack Obama's name to the controversy. In seven total stories aired on their evening and morning shows, since the story broke on Monday afternoon, Obama's name was used only six times. Reporters were much more likely to use the generic term "government." For example, CBS's Bob Orr on Wednesday's This Morning described the controversy this way: "The government just simply came in, got the subpoenas, took the phone logs and then notified the AP after the fact."

The reluctance to put Obama's name in these stories is important because it allows the low-information voter to write off the scandal as one caused by faceless government bureaucrats.

In total the generic term "government" was used 12 times. The "Justice Department" was used 16 times. Terms more closely associated to Obama including "president" (used once) or "White House" (used twice) were also sparingly used. Attorney General Eric Holder's name was uttered twice.    

The most glaring example of forgetting Obama's name in the AP scandal came from NBC's Natalie Morales who in two briefs, on the May 14 Today show, never mentioned Obama at all:

[8:03am]

NATALIE MORALES: The Justice Department has confirmed that it secretly obtained phone records for Associated Press reporters as part of an ongoing leak investigation. In a letter of protest the AP calls the action a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news gathering operations and demanded the return of the records and the destruction of all copies. The head of the Senate Judiciary committee said he is very troubled by the allegations and he wants to hear the government's explanation.
...



[9:09am]

NATALIE MORALES: Well the Justice Department has confirmed that it secretly obtained phone records for Associated Press reporters as part of an ongoing leak investigation. In a letter of protest the AP calls the action a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news gathering operations and it demanded the return of the records and the destruction of all copies. The head of the Senate Judiciary committee said he is very troubled by the allegations and he wants to hear the government's explanation.

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