ABC’s Jonathan Karl Twists RNC Chairman Priebus’s Arm to Play Up GOP Strife

Jonathan Karl interviewed RNC chairman Reince Priebus last week for the ABC News online series Politics Confidential, and the veteran reporter tried his very best to create a juicy headline for his video and accompanying article. It took a little stretching and some selective editing, but Karl managed to do it.

The headline for the entry, posted to ABC News’ Power Players blog, reads “Priebus: GOP Hurt by Dumb Comments; Needs to Work Harder to be Competitive in 2016.” The second paragraph of the article contained this Priebus quote regarding recent comments made by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Gov. Phil Bryant (R-Miss.): “I don’t think any party has a monopoly on dumb things that are said, so I’m not going to sit here and defend those comments.” But here’s the interesting thing: that quote did not appear in the video accompanying the article. All of the other quotes in the article also showed up in the video. If Priebus spoke that line, why did Karl not show him saying it? [Read the article and watch the video here.]


What the video showed instead was Karl trying and failing to get Priebus to call Gov. Bryant’s comment dumb. When Karl asked if it was a dumb comment, the RNC chairman replied, “I’m not gonna give you that headline, but I am gonna tell you that I think he’s just trying to say that people are busy.”

But Karl used that headline anyway. Did Priebus actually use the word “dumb?” We don’t have any video evidence to confirm it.

As for the headline’s contention that Priebus said the GOP was “hurt” by dumb comments, Karl had to fish for that answer as well. Priebus was explaining his thoughts on Gov. Bryant’s comment about women in the workplace when Karl butted in, asking, “It’s a comment that hurts the party, right?” What followed was a clearly truncated clip of Priebus saying, “I think it’s hurtful.” Apparently that was all the editors needed to justify the article’s headline.

Later in the interview, Karl turned to another favorite liberal narrative: Republicans must change their positions on issues in order to survive. Priebus had just finished saying that Republicans need to campaign more aggressively in order to compete with the likes of Obama’s 2012 campaign machine in future presidential elections. However, Karl wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Regarding immigration, he wondered, “[A]re you looking at, fundamentally, are we standing in the right place?

Priebus mentioned Sen. Marco Rubio’s importance to the current immigration debate, and Karl used this as an opening to play up divisions within the Republican party over a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants currently in the country. He then badgered Priebus to pick a side. Here is that exchange, followed by more commentary:           
 

JONATHAN KARL: Is Marco Rubio going to be able to pull the rest of the party along? I mean, Marco Rubio has put his support behind a plan that has a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. Ted Cruz, and many other Republicans, but Ted Cruz says that is the single most divisive issue that you could put in this bill and it’s gotta come out. So where is the party?  

REINCE PRIEBUS: But that’s not for me –  

KARL: You are chairman of the party. Where do you stand on this issue? 

PRIEBUS: It’s not for me to decide. What I’m telling you is –   

KARL: Well, what’s your view?   

PRIEBUS: I don’t agree with amnesty. No way. The key to – 

KARL: So there’s no way on a path to citizenship?  

PRIEBUS: Not on amnesty, no.
 

Of course, as Priebus tried to say, his opinion does not ultimately matter. Members of Congress hold the power to decide whether to include a pathway to citizenship in the immigration bill. Priebus is not a legislator; he’s only the RNC chairman and his job is chiefly to raise money to help Republicans win elections.

For his part, however, Priebus ultimately relented and voiced his opposition to amnesty. This played right into Karl’s narrative of a divided GOP, with Priebus, the party chief, and Rubio, a rising star considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate, on opposite sides of the immigration debate. It seems clear that the purpose of this interview was to hype the narrative of a Republican party in crisis, complete with dumb comments from some members and policy differences between the chairman and one prominent senator. Karl was aiding the Democratic/liberal effort to divide and conquer the GOP.

Below is a transcript of all the relevant parts of the interview:

JONATHAN KARL: And just this week, we’ve seen some more comments that have raised eyebrows. We had Senator Chambliss talking about sexual assault in the military.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS: The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from seventeen to twenty-two or -three. Gee whiz, that’s – the level of – the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.

REINCE PRIEBUS: I think these are things that, you know, before words come out of your mouth, I think you should think about them before they leave your lips.



PHIL BRYANT: I think parents became – both parents started working, and the mom is in the workplace...

KARL: And Governor Bryant attributing low education standards to women in the workplace.

PRIEBUS: Ditto. I mean –

KARL: Dumb comment?

PRIEBUS: I’m not gonna give you that headline, but I am gonna tell you that I think he’s just trying to say that people are busy. You’ve got a lot of pressure on moms that are becoming more and more the breadwinners in our society, and I think he was trying to make an analogy there. Clearly I don’t agree with it. I think it’s a comment that, unfortunately, puts a negative tone on a lot of Republicans and –

KARL: It’s a comment that hurts the party, right?

PRIEBUS: I think it’s hurtful.

***

KARL: But on the issues, I mean, and some of the hot-button issues we’re dealing with right now. Immigration – a lot of these issues it seems like – I mean, are you looking at fundamentally, are we standing in the right place?

PRIEBUS: Without Marco Rubio in this conversation, we wouldn’t be having the debate right now on immigration. Marco Rubio is the glue that is making this conversation happen.

KARL: Is Marco Rubio going to be able to pull the rest of the party along? I mean, Marco Rubio has put his support behind a plan that has a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. Ted Cruz, and many other Republicans, but Ted Cruz says that is the single most divisive issue that you could put in this bill and it’s gotta come out. So where is the party?

PRIEBUS: But that’s not for me –

KARL: You are chairman of the party. Where do you stand on this issue?

PRIEBUS: It’s not for me to decide. What I’m telling you is –

KARL: Well, what’s your view?

PRIEBUS: I don’t agree with amnesty. No way. The key to –

KARL: So there’s no way on a path to citizenship?

PRIEBUS: Not on amnesty, no.

KARL: That is exactly what a lot of the conservative critics are saying about what Marco Rubio is supporting. They say he is – and he is. He’s providing a pathway to citizenship after 13 years. Do you believe that’s amnesty?

PRIEBUS: Well, listen, I don’t know if it’s amnesty or not, but my view is that it’s up to the legislature to decide.
 

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