Liberal Senator Who Left the GOP Hailed By NBC As 'A Giant of Vermont'

When conservative Sen. Jesse Helms died in 2008, Brent Bozell wrote about how NBC substitute anchor Lester Holt could only talk about what he opposed: "He staked out firm positions against everything from communism and foreign aid to civil rights and modern art." NBC reporter Martin Savidge called Helms an "ultra-rightist."

But when Sen. Jim Jeffords died – a man best known for leaving the GOP and throwing the Senate majority to the Democrats in the summer of 2001 – NBC anchor Brian Willliams described him on Monday as a “giant of Vermont and national politics for decades.” He was a “moderate,” not a liberal:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: We learned today that Jim Jeffords has died. A giant of Vermont and national politics for decades. He was elected to the House back in 1974 as a moderate Republican, the only Republican in the House in fact, to vote against President Reagan's reductions in taxes back in '81. Two decades later as a U.S. Senator and increasingly disillusioned with the GOP, he announced he was leaving his own party, becoming an independent and thus tipping the balance of power in the Senate to the Democrats.

When ultra-liberal Sen. Howard Metzenbaum died in March 2008, NBC found no time for a label (or even a political party). They sweetly praised "the classic American success story" of a man who "always fought for the little guy, taking on the oil and insurance industries" as he "stuck to his populist principles."


When a man comparable to Sen. Jeffords -- Sen. Arlen Specter, who also switched to the Democrats -- did in October of 2012, he was also praised by NBC for things he favored, but he wasn't a "giant" somehow:

KELLY O`DONNELL: From his days as a scrappy Philadelphia prosecutor to decades as that rare Washington moderate, Arlen Specter was always influential and irascible....A fighter admired for how he kept going...Swept into Congress under Ronald Reagan in 1980, but Specter's views supporting abortion rights, immigration reform and gun control made him too liberal for the Tea Party Movement....Under assault, he bolted to the Democratic Party.

Months after he defected to the Democrats, then-NBC host Katie Couric was buttering up Jeffords for the folks at home:

“Jim Jeffords is the personification of one man, one vote, and his story a classic of American politics. What Jim Jeffords did simply was turn Washington on its ear. In the months following President Bush’s inauguration in January, the 67-year-old Jeffords found himself increasingly at odds with the GOP on Capitol Hill and the White House over issues ranging from education, to the environment, to the size of the tax cut, all of which forced him to examine his core beliefs....Jeffords knew and agonized that a political switch at this time in his career would affect not only him, but Republican colleagues, and his staff and family....But flying to Vermont in May, Jeffords knew he’d made the right decision....Today, Jeffords is a man at peace with himself, enjoying work on his Vermont farm, splitting logs, saving a few pennies with some inventive repair work on a wheelbarrow.” – NBC’s Katie Couric introducing a December 17, 2001 Today show interview with Jeffords.

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