Opposition to John McCain from conservatives is clearly a proper topic of news analysis on an election night, but during its two hours of EST/CST prime time coverage of Super Tuesday, the CBS News team managed to apply the “conservative” label at least 44 times -- in several instances beyond anything about the conservative split with McCain -- yet never once uttered the term “liberal” during a night when two liberals faced off on the Democratic side. Jeff Greenfield and Bob Schieffer each tagged the same Senator, 25 minutes apart, with Greenfield calling Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn the “most conservative Senator” and Schieffer referring to him as “very conservative.” Schieffer characterized the fissure between conservative activists/talk show hosts and McCain as a “split between...the very conservative establishment and the Republican Party.” Schieffer later warned that McCain must “put out this fire” the “very conservative Republicans are waging.”
No state, not even Massachusetts or New York, was liberal to the CBS crew, but shortly before 10 PM EST Couric announced “John McCain has won the deeply conservative state of Oklahoma” and she later listed McCain's win in the “very conservative state.” In the next hour, Greenfield described California as “a conservative state for Republicans.” (Announcing Obama's win in Connecticut a little past 10 PM EST, Couric simply said the state “has a strong anti-war sentiment.”)
In that Schieffer comment quoted above about how the “very conservative establishment” opposes McCain, Schieffer saw an up side to being disliked by conservatives:
There may be an up side of this. He may play at, “look, I'm the one that can get moderate votes, that. I'm the one that these folks out there that you don't like very much, they don't like me either.” But there is a split here. We're seeing a split between the conservative establishment, the very conservative establishment and the Republican Party.
(From my observations, CBS clearly issued conservative labels at a much faster pace than the other networks. My 44 liberal label count is based on the closed-captioning text and my live and later review of much of the 9 to 11 PM EST coverage on CBS. Checking the closed-captioning against the video, I found a couple of missed conservative labels (plus a reference to “the right”) and noted that seven were uttered by Mike Huckabee in his victory speech or in a subsequent interview with Katie Couric, so did not count those. It is possible I missed a liberal label, but there's none in the closed-captioning and I never heard one in watching most of the two hours live and then reviewing hunks of it later to produce the transcript below.)
Highlights of the conservative labeling, with the tags in ALL CAPS, in CBS's 9 to 11 PM EST February 5 Super Tuesday coverage:
9:25 PM EST:
KATIE COURIC: One of the big questions, I think, tonight, gentlemen, is something that's been looming over John McCain for the last month or so. Can he put together a winning coalition? Can he attract CONSERVATIVES? What are you seeing?
JEFF GREENFIELD: What we're seeing I think is that the answer is very up in the air. You have to wonder you would happen if Mike Huckabee were not in this race, plucking off those SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES.
9:32 PM EST:
SCOTT PELLEY: McCain is doing well among people who call themselves CONSERVATIVE in the Northeast.....Moving over to Connecticut now, let's have a look at how John McCain is doing among CONSERVATIVES in the northeast. In Connecticut, voters who said they are CONSERVATIVE, John McCain just edges out Mitt Romney nearly dead even. But look at this, among people in Connecticut who called themselves moderates, John McCain wins handily over Mitt Romney. So McCain doing well among those who call them themselves CONSERVATIVE in the Northeast but, Katie, not doing so well in that group in the South, particularly in Tennessee where he lost them badly.
9:33 PM EST:
JEFF GREENFIELD, on McCain: He's got a whole lot of CONSERVATIVES on his side, ranging from Jack Kemp, the Godfather of supply-side economics, to Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Senator, maybe the MOST CONSERVATIVE Senator on a lot of grounds. But there are these people, particularly in the media, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingarham folks, who have no truck with him. James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, BIG CONSERVATIVE GROUP, has said in so many words, ' I will not vote for John McCain'”...
BOB SCHIEFFER: There may be an up side of this. He may play at, 'look, I'm the one that can get moderate votes, that. I'm the one that these folks out there that you don't like very much, they don't like me either.' But there is a split here. We're seeing a split between the CONSERVATIVE ESTABLISHMENT, THE VERY CONSERVATIVE ESTABLISHMENT and the Republican Party.
9:55 PM EST:
COURIC: CBS News, by the way, can now estimate that John McCain has won the DEEPLY CONSERVATIVE state of Oklahoma, which is a good sign for McCain who has had some difficulty wooing CONSERVATIVE VOTERS because they feel that some of his positions on being opposed to the Clinton [Bush?] tax cut, his positions on immigration reform and on CONSERVATIVE judges have turned them off. But this is a good sign for him, isn't it, Bob?
SCHIEFFER: It really is and, you know, Tom Coburn who's the VERY CONSERVATIVE Senator in Oklahoma is right with McCain on ending these earmarks and waste in government spending. They've been very much together on that. There's also, several people told me that Romney just never got going down there. He could just never find anything to build a base on. Why that is, I don't know, but he didn't. But this is a good one for McCain.
GREENFIELD: Finally carried a Republican state. So that argument goes away from the Romney people.
SCHIEFFER: Let me tell you, John McCain's having a good night here tonight. We should just underline that.
COURIC: But we should add that he's not completely convinced CONSERVATIVES that he's their guy.
SCHIEFFER: No, he hasn't and somehow he's got to put out this fire that these, the CONSERVATIVES on the, THE VERY CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS are waging here.
GREENFIELD: You're going to see more and more CONSERVATIVES saying 'okay, we've got to live with this guy. He's the nominee. We can't have Hillary or Barack Obama.' And the question will be the enthusiasm build so that by the time November comes they'll be singing from the same hymn book.
SCHIEFFER: Don't forget that Bob Dole wrote a letter to Rush Limbaugh and said you ought to step back here and take a look at this guy.
COURIC: And as Roberta McCain said, his 95-year-old mother, CONSERVATIVES will support him, they'll just hold their noses, but they will support my son.
10 PM EST:
COURIC: CBS News projects McCain the winner in four winner take all northeastern states. Remember, it's all about the delegates. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware plus he takes Oklahoma, a VERY CONSERVATIVE STATE, a good sign of his ability to attract CONSERVATIVES.
10:33 PM EST:
COURIC TO HUCKABEE: But Governor Huckabee, haven't a lot of CONSERVATIVES and CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOSTS and radio hosts really kind of crucified you for a variety of reasons, for raising taxes, for proposing college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. You have your own problems with the CONSERVATIVE members of your party, don't you?