CNN's John Roberts Defends His 'Very Narrowly Sliced' Cheney Attack Piece to Ingraham

CNN put together a story featuring reporter John Roberts that absolutely hammered Vice President Cheney on Wednesday night’s Paula Zahn Now, concluding with an anonymous Republican suggesting the party needed an "exorcism" to rid itself of all its missteps and corruption.

When the Laura Ingraham show played clips, Ingraham suggested reporter John Roberts should call in – and he did. Roberts protested that the source was a "devout Republican," and not former Clinton aide David Gergen, as callers joked.

He suggested his story was "very narrowly sliced" to deal just with Cheney, and not the Libby trial. It was narrow, alright. (MP3 audio at NRO.)

Ingraham told Roberts there was no one interviewed who disagreed with the Libby trial or verdict, and he replied:

"This isn’t an excuse. This is a reasoning here. The piece I did was very narrowly sliced, and it was originally aired as part of a larger bloc of coverage of the Libby trial....I was assigned to take a look at sort of the roads leading to the vice president. So when you take that report out of that bloc of coverage, and air it by itself as happened last night, you don’t get the overall context of our coverage of the Libby trial."

But by that reasoning, it’s CNN that took Roberts out of context.

Ingraham wasn’t buying that reasoning, noting that every editorial Paula Zahn read was anti-Cheney, and "when you listen to this report, you go away concluding the entire political world thinks Dick Cheney is some type of bizarre, secretive figure behind the curtain who doesn’t talk to anybody, who should frankly be in jail himself."

Roberts asserted: "I never suggested nor would I ever suggest that Dick Cheney belongs in jail. I’ve covered him long enough to not say things like that. I was simply trying to illuminate one particular slice of this story last night.:"

Ingraham returned to that anonymous "exorcism" of GOP corruption line: "That is quite the punch to put at the end of a report. I would hope maybe you would do a follow up...because I don’t think it’s representative of what Republicans think about this whole verdict."

Here’s the transcript of the report that aired Wednesday:

PAULA ZAHN: Out in the open tonight: Now that the verdict of his -- on his chief is in, a lot of people want to go after Dick Cheney himself.... Out in the open first: a man who has always wielded enormous power behind the scenes. Tonight, there are a lot of troubling questions about how Vice President Dick Cheney uses his power and whether he's misusing it. The questions, of course, come after the conviction of his former right-hand man, Scooter Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Just look at some of today's screaming headlines and editorials. The New York Daily News calls Scooter Libby "Cheney's Fall Guy."

The Denver Post: "It exposed Cheney as a behind-the-scenes operator who dictated strategy."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "If Dick Cheney had a shred of honor, he would resign."

As senior national correspondent John Roberts reports, there is a very harsh spotlight tonight shining on the vice president.

JOHN ROBERTS: It was Libby who was convicted of lying. But, when it comes to the issue of who orchestrated White House leaks of prewar intelligence, even the jury felt Libby took the hit for higher-ups.

DENIS COLLINS, LIBBY TRIAL JUROR: There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr Libby. We're not saying that we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of, but that it seemed like he was -- to put it in Mr. Wells' point of view, he was the fall guy.

ROBERTS: Who was he the fall guy for? According to Libby's grand jury testimony, Dick Cheney. It was the vice president, Libby says, who ordered the declassification and leak of a national intelligence estimate to beat back claims from former Ambassador Joe Wilson that the president had lied about Iraq trying to buy uranium from Niger.

CLIP OF LEWIS "SCOOTER" LIBBY: He gave me instructions as to what I should say to reporters.

ROBERTS: And though Libby never said so, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald even suggested Cheney may have been behind the disclosure that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Wilson still has a civil suit pending against Cheney and other White House officials.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: It's very clear that he's a powerful figure within the White House. And it's also very clear that -- that he was intimately involved in this. He was obsessed with this. He was writing talking points on the -- on my article after it appeared. And, again, rather than deal with the facts, he was concerned about his own image.

ROBERTS: The trial only reinforced the perception of Cheney as the all-seeing vice president, the director of an elaborate Kabuki theater to defend the White House against its critics. Jim VandeHei has covered Cheney for years.

JIM VANDEHEI, "THE POLITICO": He likes to do things behind the curtain. And he obviously is -- is quite a micromanager and likes to pull the strings when he knows that the vice presidency or the presidency could be in trouble.

ROBERTS: No question, Cheney is the most powerful vice president in recent memory, perhaps ever, intimately involved in policy development, national security. He has repeatedly frustrated Democratic attempts to peel back the veil of secrecy that surrounds his office. Will the Libby verdict force him to change his ways? Not likely, says VandeHei.

VANDEHEI: Dick Cheney is Dick Cheney. He's certainly not going to change. And I -- I don't think that his critics will ever force him into changing. I mean, he has a modus operandi that's well established. He does things behind the scenes. He works with the president very closely. He's the president's right-hand man. There's no way that, suddenly, he's going to become a lovable, huggable figure on the public stage.

ROBERTS: One Republican adviser told me, this is bad for Cheney and the administration, one more log on the fire of missteps and corruption that have plagued the Republican Party, so, many demons, that they are desperately in need of an exorcism. John Roberts, CNN, Washington.

Not only does the Roberts report quote only Joe Wilson, juror Denis Collins, Jim VandeHei, and the vicious anonymous "devout Republican," it typically puts all of the "harsh spotlight" on Cheney and shines a critical light on no one else, certainly not the liberal media or the liberal Wilsons or the special prosecutor who tends to agree with the Wilsons on the big evil-White House picture. It doesn't matter whether this report is isolated or part of a larger "bloc," it's just unfair and imbalanced.

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