CNN's Rick Sanchez Uses Left-Wing Media Matters to 'Fact Check' Mike Pence

Rick Sanchez, CNN Anchor; & Eric Burns, Media Matters for America President | NewsBusters.orgOn Wednesday’s Newsroom program, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez turned to Eric Burns, the president of the left-wing organization Media Matters for America, to “fact check” Representative Mike Pence’s appearance on the program the previous day. Sanchez failed to mention the political leanings of Media Matters during the segment, and didn’t follow-up when Burns obliquely referenced his past occupation as a communications director for Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter.

Before introducing Burns, Sanchez played a clip of Representative Pence stating that he fought President Bush “on education spending. I fought my president -- was one of the 25 Republicans that opposed the prescription drug entitlement. I fought the earmarking culture and run-away spending under Republican control, and I’m going to keep fighting it as Democrats take us further down the road of deficit spending and debts.” The CNN anchor then made his introduction of the Media Matters president, omitting the left-wing stance of Burns’ organization: “Eric Burns is joining us now. He’s with Media Matters. His organization does the following -- you know what they do? They basically check to see if what politicians and people like me say on the air is truthful --  is accurate. When we make mistakes, they call us on it. I’ve been called.”

Sanchez first asked Burns if Pence was “telling the truth” in his answer to Sanchez’s question about Republicans supposedly “feigning so much outrage now after essentially rubber stamping so much of the spending that went on during the Bush/Cheney years.” The Media Matters president included a standard liberal criticism of the Bush administration’s tax cuts in his answer:

BURNS: You know, I’ll tell you, it’s a little bit of a half-truth there. We do know Congressman Pence, and he certainly did vote, you know, against education funding, as he said. You know, he voted against SCHIP funding....but I’ll tell you the part that you didn’t hear is that he voted for Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut, that actually destroyed the surplus that we had coming out of the Clinton years. He also voted to make those tax cuts permanent, helping to create the largest deficit in American history.”
Burns later used another Democratic talking point against Republicans in his criticism of Representative Pence:
SANCHEZ: Did he [Rep. Pence] ever show signs that he was that outraged before -- when some of these decisions were being made -- that, as I said earlier in this newscast, were even bigger earmark totals?

BURNS: Absolutely not. I mean, this is -- this is pandemic of the entire conservative establishment and the Republican party. I don’t know if, you know, if they’ve got amnesia or if they’re schizophrenic now --possibly both -- but I was working in Congress for much of the Bush presidency and under Tom DeLay and, you know, there was a lot of spending going on. There was a lot of Enron accounting, hiding war -- you know, wartime expenditures, pulling it out of the budget. There was, you know, the worst ethics and corruption scandal that we saw since Watergate. And so, this notion that there’s some sort of accountability that’s going to be brought to bear by Chairman Pence and other Republicans -- I just don’t think holds water.
Burns did indeed work in Congress, but he didn’t mention that he worked as the communications director for Democratic Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York, and before that as the primary spokesman and a senior adviser to another Democrat, Representative Chris Bell from Texas. Sanchez did not bother asking Burns about these past occupations, which are mentioned in Burns’ short bio on the Media Matters website. In addition to this, Burns made $500 donations to the Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns in February 2008.

At the end of the segment, the Media Matters president twice complimented Sanchez: “I want to congratulate you for being one of the few folks in the media that is actually willing to do these fact check segments, to challenge folks on this stuff.... [You’re] doing a great job.”

This isn’t the first time a Media Matters employee has appeared on Sanchez’s show. Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow for the organization, appeared on the February 6, 2009 edition of Newsroom. Sanchez introduced as merely the author of “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush,” and touted the liberal claim in his book that the mainstream media went easy on the Bush administration during its early years.

The full transcript of Sanchez’s interview of Burns, which began 29 minutes of the 3 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday’s Newsroom:

RICK SANCHEZ: Here’s something we’ve been trying to get at for a while, and I think it’s a perfectly legitimate question. Why are Republicans feigning so much outrage now after essentially rubber stamping so much of the spending that went on during the Bush/Cheney years? It’s a legitimate question, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because it’s going on right now and it’s in the news. I want you to listen. I asked this question of almost every Republican I talk to on this show, and I asked it yesterday of Mike Pence when he was on talking to us. Here’s -- here’s the exchange that we had. Let’s listen to it.

SANCHEZ (from taped interview): To quote, Congressman, one of your own, you spent like drunken sailors for eight years in this country. Why weren’t you making these arguments then? Why weren’t you holding the throat of these guys who wanted to spend a lot of your money -- AKA, let’s see, I think the names were Bush and Cheney? Did you know them?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE PENCE: Yeah, Rick, I knew them well, and you don’t know me very well if you don’t know I fought my president on education spending. I fought my president -- was one of the 25 Republicans that opposed the prescription drug entitlement. I fought the earmarking culture and run-away spending under Republican control, and I’m going to keep fighting it as Democrats take us further down the road of deficit spending and debts.

SANCHEZ (live): Eric Burns is joining us now. He’s with Media Matters. His organization does the following -- you know what they do? They basically check to see if what politicians and people like me say on the air is truthful --  is accurate. When we make mistakes, they call us on it. I’ve been called. Let’s -- let’s be fair to him [Representative Pence]. He was on our air yesterday. I asked him that question directly, and he said, you know what, you don’t know me very well Mr. Sanchez, because I did challenge President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Is he telling the truth?

ERIC BURNS, MEDIA MATTERS: Well, thanks, Rick, for having me on. You know, I’ll tell you, it’s a little bit of a half-truth there. We do know Congressman Pence, and he certainly did vote, you know, against education funding, as he said. You know, he voted against SCHIP funding --

SANCHEZ: So he was telling -- so he’s right? He did -- he did challenge a Republican administration, albeit as a Republican?

BURNS: On just a few things, but I’ll tell you the part that you didn’t hear is that he voted for Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut, that actually destroyed the surplus that we had coming out of the Clinton years. He also voted to make those tax cuts permanent, helping to create the largest deficit in American history --

SANCHEZ: So he went along -- so he went along with the gang, which, by the way, the gang included just about everybody back then, Democrats and Republicans, to be fair. But he did tend to go along with the gang back then, but he wasn’t a leader?

BURNS: Well, he wasn’t a leader back then, but he certainly went along with the gang, and I do know that he joined [Representative] Jeff Flake in opposing a few earmarks -- opposing some earmarks for others. But in this recent transportation bill that came through the House, he got two earmarks of his own. So to suggest that he’s out there championing the fight against earmarks, I don’t think is really -- is really accurate or genuine.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, I was watching -- in fact, just before talking to you, I went on the website and I read his speech on -- that he gave at CPAC -- strong, very pro-capitalism speech --

BURNS: Sure.

SANCHEZ: In fact, I’m going to quote him here. He said, ‘they’re writing the obituary on capitalism.’ I mean, that sounds like a guy who’s outraged about what's going on in our government now. Did he ever show signs that he was that outraged before -- when some of these decisions were being made -- that, as I said earlier in this newscast, were even bigger earmark totals?

BURNS: Absolutely not. I mean, this is -- this is pandemic of the entire conservative establishment and the Republican party. I don’t know if, you know, if they’ve got amnesia or if they’re schizophrenic now --possibly both -- but I was working in Congress for much of the Bush presidency and under Tom DeLay and, you know, there was a lot of spending going on. There was a lot of Enron accounting, hiding war -- you know, wartime expenditures, pulling it out of the budget. There was, you know, the worst ethics and corruption scandal that we saw since Watergate. And so, this notion that there’s some sort of accountability that’s going to be brought to bear by Chairman Pence and other Republicans -- I just don’t think holds water. And I think it’s also, Rick, worth noting that as the chairman of the House [Republican] conference -- you know, Mr. Pence does have some influence in these matters in this omnibus spending bill that the House just passed. Forty percent of the earmarks were put in by Republicans.

SANCHEZ: Let’s go to the Twitter board real quick just before I let you go. Here’s Jen Grassey -- she says, as she watches our newscast, ‘Pence’s shameful expression says it all. He should just sit down and get out of the way. Why pretend to be innocent?’ I’m not sure that's fair. Let’s go to one at the very top there, Robert. You see it? The one that says ‘Renatanicole’ or something like that -- whatever: ‘I want to see the line item veto put in place. I hope this can get some real legs on it.’ Is that a good comment? Is that -- let me ask you, is that something that we should do -- a line item veto?

BURNS: A line item veto? Well, I’ll tell you what -- I’ll leave that to Congress to decide. You know, I fought -- I personally, before going to Media Matters, fought for ethics reform for three years in Congress and -- so I support anything to clean up the process. But I’ll tell you, Rick -- I want to congratulate you for being one of the few folks in the media that is actually willing to do these fact check segments, to challenge folks on this stuff, because in this economic economic crisis we’re facing, it affects every American, and it affects every American family. We just recently did a study at Media Matters showing that, you know, during the stimulus debate, over 700 interviews -- had on cable television and Sunday talk shows, only six percent of the guests were actually economists. And I think Americans have a right to know what’s going on --

SANCHEZ: Yeah.

BURNS: You know, the media is their town hall meeting every day. It’s how they get their information.

SANCHEZ: Well, if ours -- if there’s a town hall meeting, I think ours is, because we don’t use a teleprompter. We don’t read to you. We’re just basically just having a conversation as we go with people on MySpace, Twitter, Facebook --

BURNS: And doing a great job.

SANCHEZ: And people like yourself. Eric Burns -- we’ll keep trying to do as best we can. Thanks -- truth wins out in the end.

BURNS: Thank you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: We appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you. Take care.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center