ABC's David Wright Cheerfully Compares Burris to Capra's 'Mr. Smith'

ABC reporter David Wright on Tuesday appeared on "Good Morning America" and charitably compared Illinois Senator-designate Roland Burris to the title character of Frank Capra's classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." At the same time, Wright suggested that the Senate leadership, which plans on blocking the entry of Burris, might unfavorably be linked to Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of State, Al Haig.

After asserting that the potential senator, appointed by scandal-ridden Governor Rod Blagojevich, "is being treated like a tourist," Wright made his movie analogy. He explained, "Not since Mr. Smith came to Washington in that old Frank Capra film has an idealistic senator appointed by a corrupt party boss been so unwelcome at the capitol. But at least Mr. Smith got his seat." He added that "the leadership clearly hopes Burris will come off as presumptuous, as Secretary of State Al Haig did after Ronald Reagan was shot."

Wright was certainly critical of the senators for their attempts not to seat Burris. He even compared the situation to the racially themed film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," but never specifically identified that it is the Democrats who will be barring Burris from taking his seat.

Instead, he used phrases such as "the leadership" and "his [Burris'] own party leadership." And while a text graphic identified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a Democrat, Wright avoided the D-word. He also referred to, simply, "Senator Dick Durbin," another Democrat in opposition.

A transcript of the January 6 segment, which aired at 7:01am, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: It's showdown at the Capitol. Will the Senate snub the man Governor Blagojevich sent to Washington?

7:01

ROBIN ROBERTS: But we are going to going to begin this morning with two reports on both major stories developing on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers getting down to serious business to revive the nation's economy and the effort by Illinois Senate appointee Roland Burris to be seated by a Senate that vows not to let him in. That part of the story first from ABC's David Wright, who is on the hill. Good morning, David.

DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning, Robin. The potential for embarrassment today is huge, as Roland Burris walks into this building, determined to take up the seat that he says is rightfully his. But his own party leadership, including his Senate colleague from Illinois, says he doesn't belong here because he was appointed by a tainted politician, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Well, Burris has made it crystal clear he plans to call their bluff. As he embarked at Chicago's Midway airport, he was defiant.

ROLAND BURRIS: I am the magic man.

WRIGHT: As he arrived at Baltimore-Washington International, defiant still.

BURRIS: I am the United States senator from the state of Illinois. The governor has appointed and there's no way that my distinguished majority leader can say that I'm not the senator.

WRIGHT: But Roland Burris knows the Senate won't be rolling out the red carpet.

SENATOR HARRY REID (D-NV, majority leader): Roland Burris has not been certified by the state of Illinois. When that takes place, we'll, of course, review it.

WRIGHT: Senator Dick Durbin says Burris is welcome to watch the swearing in of new senators from the comfort of Durbin's office couch. But he won't be admitted to the Senate floor. Nor will he be get to ride the members only elevator. Burris is being treated like a tourist.

[Clip from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"]

JIMMY STEWART: I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Barnes.

WRIGHT: Not since Mr. Smith came to Washington in that old Frank Capra film has an idealistic senator appointed by a corrupt party boss been so unwelcome at the capitol. But at least Mr. Smith got his seat. The leadership clearly hopes Burris will come off as presumptuous, as Secretary of State Al Haig did after Ronald Reagan was shot.

AL HAIG: As of now, I am in control here.

WRIGHT: But it's also distinctly possible the scene will look more like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." The senators may seem out of touch if this overwhelmingly white group refuses to admit the one and only black man seeking to join their exclusive club. At this point, it does seem that Burris' only sin is that he was appointed by such a tainted politician. And Senate leaders are aware of that. They're discussing the possibility of making some accommodations that would allow him to become a senator, if not today, then sometime in the near future, provided, perhaps, that he serves only to 2010, Diane.

SAWYER: My goodness. Talk about complications. Thank you, David.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org