CBS Spotlights Arne Duncan's 'Exaggeration' on Sequester Effects; ABC and NBC Punt

Thursday's CBS This Morning stood out as the only Big Three network morning newscast to zero in on Education Secretary Arne Duncan's false assertion about the sequester – that "there are, literally, teachers now who are getting pink slips; who are getting notices they can't come back this fall". Correspondent Bill Plante noted that "Duncan conceded he knew of only one county nationwide where there had been notices", and underlined that "those notices weren't sequester-related."

CBS News political director John Dickerson also highlighted that "the Washington Post caught...Duncan in an exaggeration about those effects." Actually, "exaggeration" is an understatement on the part of Dickerson, as the Post's Glenn Kessler ripped the Cabinet official over several statements he's made on the sequester issue:

...[T]here is no reason to hype the statistics — or to make scary pronouncements on pink slips being issued based on misinformation.

Indeed, Duncan's lack of seriousness about being scrupulously factual undercuts the administration's claim that the cuts are a serious problem.

Duncan made this claim not once, not twice, but three times. Let this be a teachable moment for him: Next time, before going on television, check your facts.

Bill Plante, CBS News Correspondent; Screen Cap From 28 February 2013 Edition of CBS This Morng | NewsBusters.orgPlante pointed out Secretary Duncan's beyond overblown claim near the end of the report on the impending federal budget cuts. He twice referred to "dire warnings" from various government agencies about the impact of the sequester, and played two soundbites of the former head of Chicago's public schools – the "pink slips" remark, which he made on Sunday's Face the Nation; and a comment he made at a White House briefing on Wednesday:

BILL PLANTE (voice-over): Dire warnings from agencies and departments about the negative effects of the sequester have continued. But Republicans question whether the warnings are justified. Last Sunday, on CBS's Face the Nation, Education secretary Arne Duncan said this.

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY (from interview on CBS's "Face the Nation"): And there are, literally, teachers now who are getting pink slips; who are getting notices they can't come back this fall.

PLANTE: But when pressed Wednesday during a briefing, Duncan conceded he knew of only one county nationwide where there had been notices, and-


DUNCAN (from White House press briefing): Whether it's all sequester-related, I don't know.

PLANTE (on-camera): Well, as it turned out, those notices weren't sequester-related. Despite all of those dire warnings, nothing much will happen right away when the cuts go into effect. But both the President and Republicans are betting that as the results of the cuts begin to be felt over the next couple of months, the public will blame the other side.

Anchor Charlie Rose then turned to Dickerson, and asked, "So, about the impact of a sequester and these cuts: is it being hyped too much? Will it be less than the President and his team are saying?" The political director replied with his "exaggeration" label of Duncan's claim.

Plante's reporting on Duncan's hoopla is noteworthy, as just over a week earlier, on the February 20, 2013 edition of CBS This Morning, he was actually hyping the possible "massive layoffs" that might impact the Washington, DC region.

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