NBC’s Today Toes White House Line on Sequestration Cuts

NBC continued to sound the alarm over the impending sequester on Saturday’s Today show. On a day when the CBS and ABC morning shows questioned how bad the cuts would really be, NBC ran a highly unbalanced story that mostly propagated President Obama’s doomsday scenario.

Co-anchor Lester Holt set the scene with a dire metaphor: “There's a storm of another kind brewing in Washington today. We're less than a week now away from mandatory government spending cuts going into effect.” The story, presented by White House correspondent Kristen Welker, went on to focus almost entirely on Obama’s warnings from his most recent weekly address. Welker played a clip from that address in which the president attacked Congress for failing to compromise. She also featured a sound bite of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warning of delayed commercial flights.


Welker acknowledged, “In an effort to pressure Congress, the Obama administration has really been painting a dire picture of what will happen if the sequester kicks in.” But she never questioned whether that “dire picture” was accurate. There was no mention that these "cuts" will be gradual,  that they will constitute a small percentage of the federal budget, or that the "cuts" are actually just a reduction in the rate of the growth of government spending.

Near the end of the story, Welker read a brief statement from Speaker John Boehner’s office in order to give the appearance of balance. But taken as a whole, the story sounded like an Obama White House press release.

Later in the show, NBC reprised its role as official government news station, this time in the form of a news brief read by Jenna Wolfe: “With the deadline looming, President Obama is warning this morning how you could be affected if Congress fails to act on those automatic spending cuts.” Wolfe then played another clip of Obama hyping up the devastation he thinks these cuts would bring. There was only a brief nod to the other side: “Republicans insist any plan should be based only on entitlement reform and spending cuts.”

Below is a transcript of the segments:

 

LESTER HOLT: There's a storm of another kind brewing in Washington today. We're less than a week now away from mandatory government spending cuts going into effect. And just this morning the president warned how it could affect you if Congress fails to act. Kristen Welker is at the White House with more on that. Kristen, good morning.

KRISTEN WELKER: Lester, good morning to you. President Obama has said he plans to have conversations with Congress this weekend and into next week. But with both sides dug in, it seems increasingly likely that the sequester will go into effect. In his weekly address today, President Obama said it's up to Congress to act.

BARACK OBAMA: But here's the thing -- these cuts don't have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little compromise. They can pass a balanced plan for deficit reduction. They can cut spending in a smart way and close wasteful tax loopholes for the well off and well connected.

WELKER: In an effort to pressure Congress, the Obama administration has really been painting a dire picture of what will happen if the sequester kicks in. On Friday, outgoing Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, warned the FAA will have to furlough 47,000 employees which he argued could slow air travel.


RAY LAHOOD: Travelers should expect delays. Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and others could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we have fewer controllers on staff. Delays in these major airports will ripple across the country.

WELKER: The administration has also warned 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers will be furloughed. 10,000 teachers and educators could be laid off, and some border patrol agents would see a decrease in hours. House Speaker John Boehner's office responded late Friday saying the president has been "far more interested in holding campaign-style rallies than urging his party in the Senate to find a solution." Now the sticking points are familiar with President Obama calling for new tax revenue and Republicans saying they want to see this worked out through entitlement reform and spending cuts. But with just six days, Lester, there is really no resolution in sight. Lester?

***

JENNA WOLFE: Good morning, hi guys, good morning everyone. With the deadline looming, President Obama is warning this morning how you could be affected if Congress fails to act on those automatic spending cuts.

BARACK OBAMA: They'll slow our economy. They'll eliminate good jobs. They'll leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do.

WOLFE: On Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned the FAA will have to furlough 47,000 employees which he says could slow air travel. The president says he'll meet with congressional members this weekend. Republicans insist any plan should be based only on entitlement reform and spending cuts.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.