Compliant CBS Asks: 'Did Congress Kill the Recovery?'

On Tuesday's Early Show, CBS reporter Bill Plante explained the Obama strategy in the wake of the "super committee" failure: "He came out and put the finger on Congress. He's trying to use public disgust over the gridlock as a lever."

Obama's line was exactly CBS's line on Tuesday's Evening News. Scott Pelley began the show by asking: "Tonight, did Congress kill the recovery? Stores worry that there will be fewer shoppers. Consumers fear take-home pay will shrink. The Pentagon plans massive cuts. Anthony Mason and David Martin report it's all fallout from the failure in Washington." In the entire newscast, a search shows the name "Obama" never surfaces.

After the show's opening graphics rolled away, Pelley underlined the rhetorical point:

PELLEY: Having failed to bring the federal budget under control, Congress left on vacation. Pulling the rug out from under consumer confidence as we head into the most important shopping season of the year. The failure to reach a compromise means that payroll tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits could expire New Year's Day, cutting into the income of millions. Add to that uncertainty a report that we just got: the government says that the economy as measured by the gross domestic product, grew more slowly in the third quarter than we thought. It was revised to just two percent. That is down from the previous estimate of 2.5 percent.

None of this is somehow a measure of Obama's stewardship of the economy. Apparently only one branch of the government is responsible. Did the CBS Evening News blame Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in the collapse of 2008? But Anthony Mason was lamenting how the "surprise attack" of Congress is hurting retailers:

MASON: Lord & Taylor sales in its 46 stores are up strongly this year. But Congress`s failure to cut a deficit deal is threatening to put a cloud over the crucial holiday season. (on camera) Washington is not really helping you out right now. Are they?

BRENDAN HOFFMAN, LORD & TAYLOR: No, I don't think they are right now.

MASON: If Congress allows the payroll tax cut to expire, 121 million families will lose on average $934 out of their paychecks next year.

At the end, Mason added more from his department store manager: “He said, for the next five weeks every day is literally its own event. They're fighting for every sale every single day. Retailers do not like surprise attacks, which is what they think Washington has sprung on them right now.”

Pelley continued with the story of Laurie Allen, unemployed now for a year and half:

PELLEY: Anthony, thank you. The congressional failure means that nearly two million workers could lose their unemployment benefits on December the 31st. And we asked Dean Reynolds to show us what that means.

REYNOLDS: The jobless benefit was not designed to tie people over for long jobless stretches like Laurie's. Before this current downturn, the longest average unemployment stint was 21 weeks in 1983. But this past September, the average stood at 41 weeks, the longest on record.

This, once again, is somehow not any measurement of Obama's failure. They just use the C-word over and over:

REYNOLDS: While nearly 2 million people will lose their unemployment benefits in January unless Congress votes to extend them, by the end of 2012, Scott, as more and more people reach the limit, that number could go as high as 6 million.

PELLEY: Out of work for a long time. Dean, thank you very much.

Then came report number three on congressional failure, this time with an Obama administration official testifying (with no O-word):

PELLEY: A lot of folks in the defense industry could lose their jobs. The failure of the budget negotiation means that in a little over a year, across-the-board cuts in federal spending will be automatic and half of them will come from the Defense Department. We asked David Martin to look into that.

DAVID MARTIN, CBS CORRESPONDENT: To hear Defense Secretary Panetta tell it, automatic spending cuts would be devastating to national defense.

LEON PANETTA: It's a ship without sailors. It's a brigade without bullets. It's an air wing without enough trained pilots. It's a paper tiger.

MARTIN: In a letter to Capitol Hill, Panetta provided specific examples of what he believes the cuts, which would reduce defense spending by $1 trillion over the next ten years, might mean. The smallest ground force since the beginning of World War II. The smallest fleet since World War I. And what he says would be the smallest fighter force in Air Force history. What he didn`t say was that today`s weapons systems are dramatically more capable and are therefore needed in fewer numbers...

MARTIN: But across-the-board cuts would, according to the Pentagon, mean the loss of a million or more jobs in the defense industry, increasing unemployment by one percent.

Pelley concluded the Congress-bashing part of the program -- the first eight minutes -- by lamenting that the moderates have vanished from Congress. No one asked what the proportion of moderates to liberal pro-Obama zealots is in the CBS News cubicles.

PELLEY: David, thanks very much. It seemed to us that in past years it was a lot easier for Congress to get things done. So we did some checking today with our partner in political coverage, National Journal. For 30 years the researchers there have been tracking senators to see who is liberal, who is moderate and who is conservative. And look at what's happened. In 1982, the number of moderate senators in yellow who fell between the most liberal and most conservative totaled 60. The votes where compromise is found. But the number of moderates has fallen steadily to 36 in 1994, nine in 2002 and now in the current Senate, the center is down to zero.

It's clear from this report that Pelley isn't reporting from the center. He's reporting robotically from the Obama talking points.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis