Nets Punt on Biden's 'Planned Parenthood Cannot Perform Any Abortions' Gaffe; Played Up Romney 'Shift'

On Friday afternoon, Joe Biden lived up to his reputation for committing gaffes, not even a day after Paul Ryan zinged the Vice President over how "sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way" during Thursday's debate. At a rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Biden claimed Planned Parenthood "under law cannot perform any abortions." In reality, the organization is the largest abortion racket in the country.

Hours later, none of the Big Three's Friday evening newscasts had covered Biden's patently false claim. But just two days earlier, these programs devoted a combined five minutes and 1 second on Wednesday to Mitt Romney's statement to The Des Moines Register that "there's no legislation with regard to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." NBC's Brian Williams mouthed the Obama campaign's spin - that "what Mitt Romney said about abortion that sure sounds like a change."

The same evening, on CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley gave a slanted introduction to John Dickerson's report on the Romney remark: "In the primaries, Governor Romney took a hard line against abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother." Pelley asked Dickerson, "Can you help us untangle all of this?"

The CBS political director outlined that "he's [Romney] had a number of positions on abortion," but also pointed out that "when people heard these comments to The Des Moines Register, they thought he was moderating his position. But if you looked at them closely, it didn't contradict anything he said in this campaign, and, indeed, his subsequent remarks back that up."

On ABC's World News on Wednesday, Diane Sawyer raised the issue during an interview of President Obama, and bluntly asked the incumbent if his opponent lied about his position on abortion:

DIANE SAWYER (voice-over) And he [Obama] says taking him on, on issues where he shifted, like legal abortion. During the primaries, the governor made it clear he would like to see a repeal of Roe versus Wade. But yesterday, in an interview, he said this: 'There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.'

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, Diane, this is - this is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he's been campaigning on for a year and a half. He's – his-

SAWYER: Is it a lie?

OBAMA: Governor Romney has made very clear, that if a bill comes to his desk that overturns Roe versus Wade, that he will be fully supportive of that; and he said, I will appoint justices that will overturn Roe versus Wade. And now, four weeks before an election, he is trying to cloud the question, when it comes to women's rights to control their own health care decisions.

The one thing that I think people - Republicans, as well as Democrats - can say, is that there has been consistency with me - from the time that I started running for President to today - and there will be consistency all the way through the next four years of my presidency. People will know where I stand, what I believe, what I'm fighting for, and that's part of leadership.

All three evening news programs on Friday aired full reports on the presidential race, but they all focused on the vice presidential debate from the previous night. During his report, ABC's Jonathan Karl noted Biden's rally in "Paul Ryan's home state" of Wisconsin and played a clip from it, but failed to mention his gaffe. CBS and NBC didn't mention the Vice President's campaign event.

Screen Cap From 12 October 2012 Edition of NBC Nightly News | NewsBusters.orgHowever, all three newscasts covered Space Shuttle Endeavour's slow journey down the streets of Los Angeles that day. NBC Nightly News even devoted 40 seconds to Barbara Streisand's concerts in Brooklyn, and 18 seconds to modified images of the presidential and vice presidential candidates [see image at right]. The Peacock Network certainly has its priorities straight

Even worse, NBCNews.com's First Read blog quoted the Vice President's erroneous statement on Friday, but continued by simply correcting the slip-up: "Biden also knocked Republicans for attempting to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, 'which under law can not perform any abortions.' While Planned Parenthood is prohibited from allocating federal funding for abortion, the organization does offer abortion services in addition to contraceptive and preventative health care for women."

It should be no surprise that the Big Three networks ignored this latest Biden gaffe. In a September 2012 report, the MRC's Geoff Dickens documented their record of minimal to no coverage of past verbal stumbles from the former senator from Delaware.

The full transcript of John Dickerson's report from Wednesday's CBS Evening News:


SCOTT PELLEY: John [Dickerson], in the primaries, Governor Romney took a hard line against abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. But today, he said this in The Des Moines Register newspaper – quote, 'There's no legislation with regard to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.' Then, Governor Romney followed that with this today.

MITT ROMNEY, (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think I've said that, time and again, I'm a pro-life candidate. I'll be a pro-life president. The actions I'll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood.

PELLEY: So, John, I wonder, can you help us untangle all of this?

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, this is a very tricky issue for Governor Romney, who's about to arrive here in western Ohio. He's had a number of positions on abortion. In these comments –  when he was – when he was running for governor in 19 – in the 1990s, he said he would protect abortion rights. But now, he has the opposite view. When people heard these comments to The Des Moines Register, they thought he was moderating his position. But if you looked at them closely, it didn't contradict anything he said in this campaign, and, indeed, his subsequent remarks back that up.

But Governor Romney has been moderating his position - or emphasizing the more moderate parts recently - and downplaying the conservative parts. He has pledged, once in office, that he'll do everything to restrict abortion rights. So, this could be – this moderation could be the good marketing that all candidates do once they get into a general election - have to appeal to a general election audience.

But what the Obama campaign says is it's a bigger, broader strategy - that on issues from Medicare to taxes to now abortion, Governor Romney, who referred to himself as a severe conservative, is now trying to hide that.

PELLEY: John, thank you.

[H/t: Father John Zuhlsdorf's What Does the Prayer Really Say blog, where I first learned of Biden's gaffe]

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