CNN’s Franken Labels Reporters Who Cover Democratic Gaffe: ‘Treacherous’ and ‘Snarky’

What’s the best way to cover the story that the incoming Democratic House Intelligence Chairman flunked a reporter’s current events quiz? Well, if you’re the producers of CNN’s "American Morning," you devote five minutes to the subject and spend half the time discussing examples of Republicans flubbing such quizzes. Reporter Bob Franken filed two reports for the Tuesday edition of "American Morning" and seemed downright embarrassed to be reporting the fact that Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes incorrectly responded to a correspondent’s question of who, Shiite or Sunni, primarily comprise al-Qaeda. (Reyes believed the answer to be Shiites.) Franken alternately asserted that the House member must now be aware of "snarky reporters," "treacherous reporters" and claimed that Reyes had been given a "rude welcome." Perhaps to make up for even mentioning the subject, the CNN reporter spent two and a half minutes, out of a combined five total, discussing Republican goofs. At 7:15am, co-host Soledad O’Brien introduced Franken, and set the "we-don’t-want-to-cover-this" tone:

Soledad O’Brien: "In Washington, D.C., Democrats are getting a little taste of what it's like to be in charge on Capitol Hill. Along with the perks of power comes the gotcha moments. The incoming House Intelligence Chairman is the current victim as he flunks an important test. ‘American Morning’s Bob Franken live in Washington for us this morning with details. Good morning."

Bob Franken: "Well, now we're finding out why some people say that politics is a contact sport. I guess that would include, Soledad, contact with reporters. The incoming House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, has just been given a rude welcome, a pop quiz from a 'Congressional Quarterly' reporter. 'Al Qaeda is what,' he was asked, 'Sunni or Shia?' His answer, 'predominantly, probably Shiite.' Al Qaeda is largely Sunni. Nor could he describe Hezbollah, long dominant on the U.S. list of terrorist organization."

Jeff Stein (Congressional Quarterly reporter): "How is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee going to ask intelligence– intelligent questions of the CIA and the Pentagon spy agencies, if he doesn't know what to ask?"

Having described the incident in as brief a manner as possible, Franken spent the rest of the piece discussing other occasions where this sort of thing has happened. Unsurprisingly, the examples included only Republicans:

Franken: "In 1999, then presidential candidate George W. Bush flubbed a similar impromptu quiz about world leaders."

(video clip)

George W. Bush: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not been elected, this guy took over office, he appears he's going to bringing stability to the country. And I think that's good news for the sub-continent."

Reporter: "Can you name him?"

Bush: "General -- I can name the general."

Reporter: "And it's--"

Bush: "General."

(end video clip)

Franken: "He still became president."

And for the media, what could be more fun than showing President Bush fumbling for an answer? Why, highlighting outgoing Senator George Allen, of course:

Franken: "And it is not only reporters who lay in ambush."

(Video clip)

Senator-elect Jim Webb, (D-VA): "We have a situation in the Senkaku Islands which can blow up into an incident. I wonder what you think about that, George?"

Senator George Allen (R-VA): "I would have to study the issue more fully to give you a complete answer."

(end video clip)

Franken: "Of course, we all know the islands are claimed by both Japan and China, right?" 

The above example is from the 2006 Virginia Senate race. Jim Webb, the Democratic candidate used the October 9 debate to stump his Republican opponent, George Allen. What CNN doesn’t mention, however, is that this line of questioning was political payback from Webb. Two months earlier, Allen caught the Democrat unaware during a debate. Apparently that sort of example wouldn’t fit the cable network’s template.

Franken continued, pushing back even further in time:

Franken: "This gotcha game is nothing new. Sometimes a candidate even gets himself."

(Video clip from 1976 presidential debate)

Gerald Ford "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."

Jimmy Carter: "I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don't live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain."

Ford’s comments, admittedly, sound embarrassing, but is it really necessary to reach back 30 years for such examples? Franken closed the report by reiterating what a nuisance reporters can be:

Franken: "Well, that was then. This is now. Incoming Chairman Reyes has put out a statement, saying, quote, he is 'acutely aware of the fact that al-Qaeda wants to do harm to Americans.' And might I add, Soledad, now acutely aware of snarky reporters."

O’Brien: "Yes, I think he is. Welcome to running Congress, sir."

In a previous segment, airing at 6:07am, Franken ended the segment with even tougher language:

Franken: "Of course, President Ford had already had his learning curve and apparently, Miles, Chairman Reyes is still having his. He's got some cramming to do. He did put out a statement saying that he is ‘acutely aware of al-Qaeda's desire to harm Americans.’ Miles."

Miles O’Brien: "And acutely aware of Sunni from Shiite now, I'm sure."

Franken: "And acutely aware of treacherous reporters."

O’Brien: "Yes, indeed. And won't be talking to him any more, I'm sure."

It’s odd, when reporters are covering Republican gaffes, they don’t seem quite so embarrassed about doing their jobs.

A transcript of the 7:15 segment and a partial transcript of the 6:07 transcript follow:

Soledad O’Brien: "In Washington, D.C., Democrats are getting a little taste of what it's like to be in charge on Capitol Hill. Along with the perks of power comes the gotcha moments. The incoming House Intelligence Chairman is the current victim as he flunks an important test. ‘American Morning’s Bob Franken live in Washington for us this morning with details. Good morning."

Bob Franken: "Well, now we're finding out why some people say that politics is a contact sport. I guess that would include, Soledad, contact with reporters. The incoming House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, has just been given a rude welcome, a pop quiz from a 'Congressional Quarterly' reporter. 'Al Qaeda is what,' he was asked, 'Sunni or Shia?' His answer, 'predominantly probably, Shiite.' Al Qaeda is largely Sunni. Nor could he describe Hezbollah, long dominant on the U.S. list of terrorists organization."

Jeff Stein: "How is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee going to ask intelligence– intelligent questions of the CIA and the Pentagon spy agencies, if he doesn't know what to ask?"

Franken: "In 1999, then presidential candidate George W. Bush flubbed a similar impromptu quiz about world leaders.

George W. Bush: "The new Pakistani general, he's just been elected -- not been elected, this guy took over office, he appears he's going to bringing stability to the country. And I think that's good news for the sub-continent."

Reporter: "Can you name him?"

Bush: "General -- I can name the general."

Reporter: "And it's?"

Bush: "General."

Franken: "He still became president. And it is not only reporters who lay in ambush."

Jim Webb, (D-VA): "We have a situation in the Senkaku Islands which can blow up into an incident. I wonder what you think about that, George?"

George Allen (R-VA): "I would have to study the issue more fully to give you a complete answer."

Franken: "Of course, we all know the islands are claimed by both Japan and China, right? This gotcha game is nothing new. Sometimes a candidate even gets himself."

Gerald Ford "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."

Jimmy Carter: "I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don't live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain."

Franken: "Well, that was then. This is now. Incoming Chairman Reyes has put out a statement, saying, quote, he is 'acutely aware of the fact that Al Qaeda wants to do harm to Americans.' And might I add, Soledad, now acutely aware of snarky reporters."

O’Brien: "Yes, I think he is. Welcome to running Congress, sir."

6:07

Franken: Of course, President Ford had already had his learning curve and apparently, Miles, Chairman Reyes is still having his. He's got some cramming to do. He did put out a statement saying that he is "acutely aware of al Qaeda's desire to harm Americans. Miles.

Miles O’Brien: And acutely aware of Sunni from Shiite now, I'm sure.

Franken: "And acutely aware of treacherous reporters."

O’Brien: "Yes, indeed. And won't be talking to him any more, I'm sure."

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