CBS: Robert Byrd 'One of the Hardest Working Senators in Modern History'

Whit Johnson, CBS On Monday's CBS Early Show, correspondent Whit Johnson reported breaking news of the death of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and proclaimed: "By all accounts, he was one of the hardest working senators in modern history." Johnson touted Byrd's "four volume history of the Senate" and described him as the "unequaled master of the Senate rules."

Part of the "hard work" Johnson cited was the massive number of pork barrel projects Byrd secured funding for over his long career: "Byrd said he owed his success to the long suffering people of West Virginia and he returned the favor by steering billions of dollars in federal government projects to the state, dozens of them, named for him." Johnson noted how "Byrd reveled in his success at bringing home the bacon....His critics called him the king of pork. He called that hog wash."

Another aspect of Byrd's career that Johnson highlighted was the West Virginia Democrat's opposition to the Iraq war: "A harsh critic of the war in Iraq, Byrd said opposing the war in 2003 was his most important vote ever."

It was not until the end of his report that Johnson mentioned Byrd's controversial past on race relations: "His life was not without mistakes. He deeply regretted joining the Ku Klux Klan as a young man and participating in a filibuster against the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later in life, though, he became an advocate of civil rights."

Later, in a news brief in the 8AM ET hour, fill-in news reader Betty Nguyen declared that Byrd was "a master politician, an expert on Senate rules, and unrelenting lobbyist for his home state and a powerful force on Capitol Hill."

Here is a full transcript of Johnson's June 28 report:
7:00AM TEASE

ERICA HILL: Breaking news. The longest serving member of Congress, Senator Robert Byrd, has died. We'll look back at his remarkable career and tell you how this could impact the balance of power in the Senate.

7:01AM SEGMENT

ERICA HILL: First, though, we do want to get to the breaking news, of course, out of Washington this morning. The passing of Senator Robert Byrd early this morning. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson is on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Whit, good morning.

WHIT JOHNSON: Erica, good morning. Senator Robert Byrd checked into a hospital late last week. Originally, he was thought to be suffering from heat exhaustion, but doctors found further complications. The longest serving senator in U.S. history passed away this morning at the age of 92.

ROBERT BYRD: The United States Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the whole world.

JOHNSON: Robert Byrd won nine elections to the U.S. Senate. He was the longest serving senator in American history. He grew up in poverty in the hardscrabble coal fields of West Virginia, where he learned to play the fiddle. For decades he used it to entertain audiences on the campaign trail and even performed at the Grand Ole Opry. By all accounts, he was one of the hardest working senators in modern history. He went to law school at night, receiving his degree at age 45 from President Kennedy. He wrote a four volume history of the Senate, became the unequaled master of the Senate rules and climbed to the top of the ladder, spending 12 years as Democratic leader. Byrd said he owed his success to the long suffering people of West Virginia and he returned the favor by steering billions of dollars in federal government projects to the state, dozens of them, named for him. Byrd reveled in his success at bringing home the bacon.

BYRD: Man, you're looking at big daddy. Big daddy! Rolled up my sleeves, man.

JOHNSON: His critics called him the king of pork. He called that hog wash.

BYRD: This notion that earmark spending is inherently wasteful spending is flat out wrong. W-r-o-n-g.

JOHNSON: A harsh critic of the war in Iraq, Byrd said opposing the war in 2003 was his most important vote ever.

BYRD: How long must the best of our nation's military men and women be taken from their homes to fight this unnecessary war?

JOHNSON: His life was not without mistakes. He deeply regretted joining the Ku Klux Klan as a young man and participating in a filibuster against the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later in life, though, he became an advocate of civil rights. His great loves included his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, a Senate, which he so revered he called 'the temple,' and the Constitution, a copy of which he always carried in his breast pocket. But above everything else, there was Erma, Byrd's high school sweetheart and wife of 68 years. She passed away in 2006. Byrd said she was his greatest love of all. Washington is already reacting this morning to Senator Byrd's death. He's being remembered for his fighter spirit. Erica.

HILL: Whit, thanks. Whit Johnson in Washington this morning.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC