For six days and counting (including this morning), the broadcast networks entertained the idea that Paul Ryan was lying in his convention speech last week. Yet the problem for journalists was that Ryan’s speech was accurate, even if they didn’t like the implications. NBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday evening’s Nightly News, for example, even conceded that “what he [Ryan] said many times was technically factual,” but grumbled that “by what he left out,” he “actually distorted the actual truth.”
Such a sensitive standard means journalists could endlessly complain, since even truthful speeches or TV ads necessarily omit information detrimental to their campaign objective. The question is, will journalists be so sensitive when liberal Democrats take liberties with their campaign rhetoric?
At the top of Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie teased an upcoming interview with Paul Ryan by slamming the Republican vice presidential candidate: "Paul Ryan joins us to talk about where he thinks the presidential race is headed and criticism that he's played fast and loose with the truth." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Beginning the interview with Ryan minutes later, fellow co-host Matt Lauer parroted Guthrie's attack: "There are some people who are claiming that you played a little fast and loose with the truth on certain key elements. And I'm not just talking about Democratic analysts, I'm talking about some independent fact checkers. Would you concede that while many of the things you said were effective, some were not completely accurate?"
The hosts of the three network morning shows on Tuesday grilled Paul Ryan, questioning the Republican's facts and citing Joe Biden as a policy expert. Former Democratic operative turned journalist George Stephanopoulos highlighted a quote from the Vice President touting the last four years.
Good Morning America's Stephanopoulos interrogated, "When [Biden] says Osama bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive, you say?" Using remarkably similar language, CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose pressed Ryan on Obama's first term, parroting, "...Vice President Biden has come back and said, as you know, General Motors is alive and Osama Bin Laden is dead."
Of the three morning shows, only ABC's Good Morning America on Monday highlighted two drunken delegates at the Democratic National Convention, one of whom was forced to leave North Carolina. Fill-in host Lara Spencer touted the story, asserting that "things are already off to a shaky start."
Reporter Cecilia Vega explained, "Two California Democratic delegates partied into the wee hours of Sunday morning. In the lobby of their Charlotte hotel, one was so drunk he apparently passed out and was taken to the hospital." She added that the unidentified delegate was "belligerent" and threatened with arrest for impersonating a congressman. ABC reported the story in the 7am and 8am hour. CBS This Morning and NBC's Today, however, skipped it.
Chris Matthews appeared on the Labor Day edition of the Today show to promote his fawning new documentary, Barack Obama: Making History. (The subtitle for MSNBC's special on Romney was much more restrained: "The Making of a Candidate.") The liberal host also insisted that, "from now on," the media will watch Paul Ryan for lies. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Today reporter Carl Quintanilla and Matthews sounded like an echo chamber. Quintanilla tossed this softball: "...But there was a lot of criticism about [Ryan's] convention speech, Chris. Some said he actually made false statements in the course of it. Does that damage his credibility?" The liberal cable anchor, naturally, agreed that it did.
The network morning shows on Friday slammed conservative actor Clint Eastwood's "bizarre," "rambling" endorsement of Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention. Good Morning America, CBS This Morning and NBC's Today dissected the speech in 11 out of 12 segments about the convention.
GMA guest host Amy Robach mocked, "The good, the bad and the ugly." She hyperbolically added, "Did Clint Eastwood derail Romney's big night with a bizarre warm up speech?" CBS This Morning co-anchor Norah O'Donnell spit out a similar critique: "It was the 'no good, the bad and the ugly.'" CBS obsessed over Eastwood the most, in five out of five segments on the GOP's convention. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
In an interview with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer worried that the Republican National Convention was not appealing to a broad audience: "When you talk about the conservatives and we talk about the gender gap and how important women are...do you think this convention is reaching out to the people who are going to decide this election, independents, moderates and women?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Earlier in the show, Lauer hyped the same concern while talking to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, wondering if Paul Ryan's "staunchly conservative views on topics like abortion" created a "fear" among Republicans that female voters would be turned off.
In an interview with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer used attack lines from deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter to question the honesty of Paul Ryan's vice presidential nomination acceptance speech: "[She] said, 'Forty minutes of vitriol and half a dozen previously debunked attacks.' Was it an honest speech or was it just a campaign convention speech?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
During a panel discussion on Wednesday's NBC Today, advertising executive Donny Deutsch ripped into Republican National Convention keynote speaker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: "I'm gonna talk about the Christie brand. Bullying will never be accepted across this country....If you're a woman, if you're a minority...they don't want somebody up there going, 'This is the way it is.' His brand will never sell to the country." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Co-host Savannah Guthrie attempted to present a different perspective: "It's interesting you say that, because one man's bullying is another man's straight talk." Deutsch immediately dismissed any such point of view: "No, it's not...no, this is a bully....This guy will never, ever get elected President of the United States. Remember I told you that....this brand will never sell."
All three morning shows, Wednesday, pounded Marco Rubio, forcing him to defend a supposedly anti-Hispanic Republican Party and explain that the GOP won't destroy Medicare. CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose lectured, "...Many people worry that people who are Hispanic, African-American and other minorities don't have a place in this party." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
He continued, "[Your party is] becoming something that is more narrow rather than outreaching." On ABC's Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos pushed the same liberal talking point. He quoted Antonio Villaraigosa, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, parroting "He [Villaraigosa] said you can't just trot out a brown face or as Spanish surname and expect people to vote for your candidate. He was referring to you tomorrow night."
In a Tuesday 10 a.m. et NBC News special report on President Obama declaring a state of emergency for Gulf Coast states in the path of Hurricane Isaac, Today co-host Matt Lauer gushed: "Politics 101, you've got your opponents in Tampa and Mitt Romney's about to tell Americans why he should be elected president, if you're the president, you go out and act like the president." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Meet the Press host David Gregory agreed: "Yeah, you do your job." As they both anchored the coverage from the Republican National Convention, Gregory observed that Obama's statement "...happens as there's so much anxiety here among the campaign and the party organizers about how to approach this and the optics of a split-screen, storm coming and a big political party." After the President spoke about the impending storm, Gregory added: "Again, it only underscores how difficult it is for a Republican Party to move forward with this convention, with that potential threat."
In an interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer was aghast at an off-the-cuff joke by Mitt Romney on Friday: "...he said, 'No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate,' an obvious reference to the birther debate. Is it – he says it was a joke. Is it funny to kind of pay attention to a fringe group and question the very legitimacy of the President of the United States's citizenship?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Christie replied: "Yeah, but he hasn't. I mean, he has been the clearest, the most affirmative of all the Republican candidates who are running for this nomination, in saying that he didn't think that was an issue." Lauer ignored the fact that President Obama himself has joked about his birth certificate on more than one occasion and that the Obama campaign actually raised money off the issue, selling mugs and t-shirts mocking the conspiracy theory.
In a report for Monday's NBC Today, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd was eager to paint a picture of Republicans in disarray prior to the GOP convention: "The specter of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, which proved so politically damaging to George W. Bush, looms large here in Tampa. It's the latest in a series of distractions that has jolted the Romney campaign off its core economic message..." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
On Sunday's Today, co-host Jenna Wolfe proclaimed: "It's been a tough week for Republicans." As the headline on screen announced "GOP's Hurdles Heading Into Convention," Wolfe proceeded to rattle off supposed evidence of her assertion:
Opening an hour-long special on the Mormon Church for Thursday's NBC Rock Center, anchor Brian Williams proclaimed to viewers: "Most Americans say they know next to nothing about the Mormon Church. Tonight, a rare look inside the lives of modern Mormon families....A church still dealing with the issue of polygamy....And other issues of inequality."
Teasing a report on the history of the Church, Williams promised to answer the question of "why so many Americans still today are suspicious of the religion." Introducing that portion of the broadcast, Williams touted pop culture mocking the faith, starting with a clip of Fox's Family Guy in which lead character Peter Griffin declares: "I'm going to be a Mormon....Come on, nailing a different wife every night. That's a no-brainer."
The media obsession with a gaffe by Congressman Todd Akin continued on Wednesday and Thursday morning. The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts and morning shows offered five additional segments, bringing the amount of coverage to a massive 96 minutes (and 45 segments) over three and a half days. The disparity between Akin and gaffe-prone Vice President Biden's "chains" controversy from last week is now five-to-one.
The massive amount of coverage is obviously favorable to the Democrats, a point Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos underlined: "Mitt Romney hoping to shake off those controversial comments from Congressman Todd Akin about abortion and rape. President Obama and his team doing everything they can to make it stick."
Eager to keep the Todd Akin controversy alive on Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams declared the Missouri Republican's comments were "inflicting unforeseen and great damage on the national party." Correspondent Andrea Mitchell began her report by proclaiming: "...only days before their convention, Republicans remain trapped in a national debate about abortion and rape." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Mitchell quickly attempted to link vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to Akin: "Ryan co-sponsored one bill with Akin that critics say could outlaw all abortions, even for rape victims." She then tried to connect Mitt Romney: "Romney once supported abortion rights, but reversed course before his first run for the White House. In 2007, he embraced anti-abortion activist Dr. John Wilkie, the man who came up with the discredited rape theory that Akin was citing."
"A grand jury indicted Floyd Lee Corkins II, 28, of Herndon, Va., on a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, and two District of Columbia offenses: assault with intent to kill while armed and possession of a handgun during a crime of violence," reported CBS News and the Associated Press yesterday shortly after 5 p.m. Eastern. CBSNews.com carried the story in the "daily blotter" section of its Crimesider feature. "Corkins' parents told investigators that he was a supporter of gay rights, and he said he didn't agree with the FRC's politics before the shooting, according to the documents," the article added.
Yet last night's CBS Evening News completely ignored the story, as did ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News. The August 23 editions of those networks' morning shows also ignored the story. A search of our DVR recordings also found no mention of the indictment on the ultra-liberal, fervently pro-gay rights MSNBC network. John Berman of CNN's Starting Point did briefly touch on the story in the 7:00 a.m. news brief:
On Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams brought on political director Chuck Todd to give a "damage assessment" for Republicans in the wake of the Todd Akin controversy. Todd attempted to blame the conservative grassroots for the uproar: "...the Tea Party effect....will maybe cost Mitch McConnell a shot at controlling the United States Senate. Their own infighting has done this." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
What Todd failed to mention was that Tea Party Express and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin backed one of Akin's opponents, Sarah Steelman, in the Missouri Republican Senate primary.
A week after giving relatively light coverage to Joe Biden's "chains" smear, the broadcast networks eagerly dove into the Todd Akin controversy, giving over four times more coverage to an uproar involving a statewide (conservative) politician than a controversy involving a national (liberal) politician. NBC, CBS and ABC's evening and morning shows have devoted an astonishing 88 minutes (or 40 segments) of coverage to Congressman Akin's "legitimate rape" remark. Over a similar three day period, the networks allowed a scant 19 minutes (or ten segments) to a racially charged gaffe by the Vice President of the United States.
CBS This Morning reporter Norah O'Donnell on Tuesday pronounced, "If Akin is still running for the United States Senate, everybody is going to be asking about Akin, abortion rights, women's rights, etc., during the Republican convention." CBS journalists certainly did their best to make sure "everybody" would be talking about the Republican. The network hyped the story the most, pushing the controversy for 13 segments and 37 minutes.
In what co-host Matt Lauer billed as a campaign ad "reality check" on Tuesday's NBC Today, a Romney ad criticizing the Obama administration for gutting Welfare reform was dismissed as ineffective, "too complicated" and "Pants on Fire" false. Meanwhile, an Obama ad slamming Romney over taxes was praised for making Romney look like a cross between wealthy Simpson's villain "Mr. Burns" and an "evil" version of Mad Men's Don Draper. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Much of the commentary came from ad critic and MediaPost.com editor-at-large Barbara Lippert. She quickly rejected the Romney ad: "I don't think it's effective because it's such a battle of images....It's too complicated. You have to turn it around in your mind." Then she enthusiastically gushed over the Obama ad and threw in her own nasty jabs at Romney:
During the Today's Professionals panel segment on Tuesday's NBC Today, attorney Star Jones predicted that if Todd Akin continues his Senate run in Missouri, the entire Republican Party will be branded with his controversial remarks: "If he doesn't [get out], the Romney/Ryan ticket is going to be tarred with this feather for the entire campaign. They sponsored bills together that pretty much echo this sentiment." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Moments later, advertising executive Donny Deutsch struck the same tone, warning: "As far as the GOP, this is going to be devastating if he stays in. Because they have two big issues, the Hispanic vote and the female vote, and it gives them the ultimate poster boy. They're in trouble."
At the top of Monday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams proclaimed: "Firestorm. A Congressman's words about rape rocket across the country...women's issues are front and center again." Introducing the lead story moments later, Williams announced how "suddenly" Republican Todd Akin's comments "exploded well beyond the borders of Missouri."
Correspondent Andrea Mitchell began her report by nationalizing the gaffe made by Akin during a local news interview: "Republicans fear their hopes for the White House and control of the Senate could turn on what happened at a St. Louis TV station..." Mitchell later touted: "In a race where the President had a 15-point advantage with women voters in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans were reeling."
Appearing on Monday's NBC Today, political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd used reports of a Republican congressman skinny dipping during a 2011 trip to Israel to slam the GOP: "...a bunch of freshman House Republicans who came to Washington trying to stop things...create this confrontation with the President over the debt ceiling...created all sorts of economic havoc....they partied, got drunk and one of them went skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Co-host Savannah Guthrie teed up Todd by wondering if the actions of Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder on that trip were "a momentary personal embarrassment or does it have worse tidings for the party as a whole?" Todd responded: "This took place two weeks after the paralysis over the debt ceiling. Two weeks after the United States credit rating was downgraded.....It's not exactly what an institution with an approval rating hovering in the teens, on a good day, wants to be showing."
At the top of Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie seized on controversies involving Republican members of Congress and proclaimed: "Hot water....Two distractions for the GOP with the convention now just one week away." Introducing coverage of the incidents, fill-in cost Lester Holt similarly declared: "...some high-profile distractions for the Republican Party. Two congressmen under fire this morning, one for what he did, the other for what he said."
All three morning shows on Monday highlighted gaffes involving two Republican congressmen, touting the "firestorm" that followed a GOP senatorial candidate who discussed "legitimate rape." Both NBC and CBS attempted to link that incident (and one of a congressman swimming naked in the Sea of Galilee) to the Republican presidential ticket.
On CBS This Morning, Nancy Cordes trumpeted "comments made by Missouri Republican Todd Akin [that] have caused a firestorm" and added, "...National Democrats are already seizing on his comments as they try to push the notion that Republicans are out of touch when it comes to women's health." Talking to Chuck Todd, Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie giddily hyped, "But let me ask you the larger question, do you think this will have an effect on the Republican race for president, where the female vote is so important?"
On Saturday's Today show on NBC, after co-host Lester Holt asked if the issue of Mitt Romney's tax returns has "jumped the shark" yet, MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin asserted that "the press still likes this story a lot," and that "The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this."
On Thursday and Friday, NBC launched an all out assault on Mitt Romney, urging him to release more tax returns. Opening Thursday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams scrambled to resurrect the worn-out line of attack: "Talking taxes. Under intense pressure, Mitt Romney talks about what he has paid." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Introducing the lead story moments later, Williams proclaimed: "It is a topic that won't go away. In the hands of the Democrats, it has dogged Mitt Romney from the start and may follow him all the way to the finish of this campaign." He described Romney's "private life of great wealth" and him being "unwilling to go public with his tax returns beyond the past two years."
In what was billed as a profile of Ann Romney set to air on Thursday's NBC Rock Center, a portion of the interview played on Thursday's Today featured news anchor Natalie Morales grilling the Republican candidate's spouse on taxes: "...she fiercely defended the Romneys' decision not to release tax returns from before 2010. A lot of people still are asking why not be transparent and release more than the 2010 and the estimates for 2011." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Romney responded forcefully: "Have you seen how we're attacked? Have you seen what's happened?" Morales continued to press the issue: "It's been in the press quite a bit. Now are you angry that it's been in the press? I mean, should you not be questioned about your finances?" Romney pushed back: "We have been very transparent to what's legally required of us. But, the more we release, the more we get attacked. The more we get questioned, the more we get pushed."
Over eight hours of broadcast time, Thursday, the network morning shows devoted a scant two minutes and 57 seconds to Wednesday's shooting at the conservative Family Research Council (FRC). Good Morning America on ABC offered the most time, a still tiny two minutes and 22 seconds. But at least guest anchor Josh Elliott revealed key details about the alleged shooter's possible motive, such as the fact that Floyd Corkins "was a volunteer at a local LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] center." CBS This Morning totally skipped the story.
ABC reporter Pierre Thomas added, "Sources say [Corkins] had items from fast food giant Chick-fil-A in his bag, but it was unclear whether Wednesday's incident had any ties to the recent controversy on gay marriage." Thomas then gratuitously noted, "The company's owner recently set off a political firestorm, suggesting he opposed gay marriage." (CEO Dan Cathy created a "firestorm" by simply giving his opinion on an issue? Wouldn't it be fair to say that liberal groups whipped up the anger?)
Reporting for Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, White House correspondent Kristen Welker discussed the "remarkably ugly political week so far" in the presidential campaign following racially-charged comments by Joe Biden, but then touted him as "the ever-outspoken Vice President" who "today doubled down on being the President's other best weapon, attack-dog-in-chief."
In a report for Thursday's NBC Today, Welker similarly proclaimed that Biden had "doubled down on being outspoken" while "still taking heat from Republicans for comments" on Tuesday in which he ranted to a crowd in Virginia that the GOP would "put y'all back in chains" if Mitt Romney won the November election.