For the first time on their weekday evening newscasts, the broadcast networks picked up Cliven Bundy's standoff with the federal government – but only after Bundy's racist comments went viral and his conservative supporters denounced them.
Amidst what NBC called a "firestorm," the networks made sure to tie Bundy to the conservatives and Republicans who sympathized with his cause, but were then forced to condemn his racist comments. In fact, ABC's World News aired Fox News host Sean Hannity's support of the rancher but said nothing of Hannity's condemnation of his racist words.
"Before this, Bundy had become a cause celebre for Fox News's Sean Hannity," reported ABC's David Kerley. He failed to report Hannity calling Bundy's remarks "beyond repugnant" on his Thursday radio show.
In the wake of Bundy's "firestorm," the networks pointed out his conservative supporters who had to backtrack. "The dispute made Bundy a hero to some conservatives," noted CBS's Nancy Cordes.
"But now, not two weeks later, he [Bundy] has lost much of his freedom fighter status in conservative circles with these comments about race," reported NBC's Mike Taibbi.
Below are transcripts of the segments:
6:35 p.m. EDT
DIANE SAWYER: And we head out west tonight, where there's a new battle surrounding a rancher who had become a kind of anti-government folk hero. A man who seemed to be winning a high-stakes showdown with Washington. Several politicians rallied to his side. But tonight they are quickly and quietly backing away because of something he said about race in America. ABC's David Kerley now with a new twist in the controversy.
DAVID KERLEY: The rancher who grazed his cattle on federal land but refused for two decades to pay fees to the government stared down U.S. agents with a handful of supporters a week and a half ago. But tonight he is losing supporters faster than the temperature rises in Nevada after his racist comments to reporters.
CLIVEN BUNDY, Nevada rancher: I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro. They put their young men in jail because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidies?
KERLY: And today on a radio program, he didn't help himself much.
BUNDY: If they think I'm racist, they're totally wrong. Again, I'm wondering are they better off under the old system of slavery or are they better off under the welfare, the slavery that they're under now.
KERLEY: Before this, Bundy had become a cause celebre for Fox News's Sean Hannity.
SEAN HANNITY, Fox News host: Frankly I thought there was a lack of proportionality here by the government and snipers and surrounding your ranch and taking your cattle.
KERLEY: Some Republican lawmakers had also hailed Bundy, including his home state senator Dean Heller, Texas's Ted Cruz. But tonight, they and Senator Rand Paul are heading for the hills now trying to distance themselves from Bundy. Paul saying his remarks on race are "offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him." Tonight, cattleman Bundy with fewer friends. And he still owes the federal government more than a million dollars.
[6:39 p.m. EDT]
SCOTT PELLEY: High-profile supporters of a controversial Nevada rancher are stampeding away from him tonight after his comments about African Americans and slavery. Cliven Bundy became a celebrity among some conservatives this month when the federal government threatened to confiscate his cattle because his herd was grazing on federal lands and Bundy refused to pay the fees. Nancy Cordes has the new developments.
CLIVEN BUNDY: I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro.
NANCY CORDES: At a gathering near his ranch northeast of Las Vegas this weekend, 67 year-old Cliven Bundy shared his views about African Americans. His comments were later posted on YouTube.
BUNDY: They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, were they better off as slaves picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidies?
CORDES: Two weeks ago, Bundy and his supporters, some of them armed, clashed with federal agents who tried to confiscate his cattle. The Nevada rancher owes $1.1 million in fees for grazing hundreds of cattle on federal land for the past twenty years.
BUNDY: It's freedom and liberty and access to our land and get rid of this abusive government.
CORDES: The dispute made Bundy a hero to some conservatives.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you Sean.
CORDES: But now, his admirers on the right are condemning him. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called Bundy's comments "offensive." Nevada Senator Dean Heller who had praised Bundy as a patriot called the comments "appalling and racist." In a press conference this afternoon, Bundy defended his remarks.
BUNDY: These people, they're not slaves no more. They seem to be slaves to the welfare system and this type of thing, but they have opportunity.
CORDES: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the top Democrat in the Senate, has called Bundy and his supporters domestic terrorists. He was criticized by that – for that by Nevada Republicans, but they may not be defending Bundy quite so vigorously going forward, Scott.
7:10 p.m. EDT
BRIAN WILLIAMS: In this country he was hailed by some as a populist hero, the Nevada rancher who resisted the government's attempts to remove his cattle from federal lands. But tonight it's what Cliven Bundy has had to say in recent days about race that is causing outrage and has some of his supporters running from him and fast. And fair warning, his comments contain language seldom heard in this day in age. Our report tonight from NBC's Mike Taibbi.
MIKE TAIBBI: In the age of viral videos, everything can happen quickly. Cliven Bundy's supporters, many of them armed, helped him hold off government attempts to seize his cattle that had been grazing on federal lands, even though he's refused to pay more than a million in grazing fees and fines.
BUNDY: We're after freedom. I don't recognize the United States government as even existing.
TAIBBI: But now, not two weeks later, he's lost much of his freedom fighter status in conservative circles with these comments about race.
BUNDY: I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro.
TAIBBI: Comments first referenced in today's New York Times and now gone viral, about African Americans he saw outside an urban housing project.
BUNDY: They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves picking cotton and having a family life and doing things or are they better off under government subsidies?
TAIBBI: The fallout has been swift. The distance from hero to pariah traveled at the speed of the internet starting with some of Bundy's major supporters. Senator Rand Paul called the comments "racist and offensive." Nevada Senator Dean Heller's word, "appalling." And conservative commentators on Fox News that supported Bundy's cause were suddenly silent or openly critical. Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Heath Rogers, who's followed Bundy's case for years, says the rancher has one logical move.
HEATH ROGERS, Las Vegas Review-Journal: I think Cliven has to look inside himself and maybe he might be a bigger man by saying I'm sorry.
TAIBBI: He did not apologize today, repeating his comments about race. But while the dispute over grazing his cattle without paying fees isn't over –
AMY LUEDERS, Bureau of Land Management: The courts have ruled that his cattle are in trespass.
TAIBBI: His role as an unqualified anti-government hero is.