CBS Evening News Never Touched Durbin, But Leads with Bennett
The CBS Evening News, which in June never uttered a syllable about Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's incendiary comments, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, equating U.S. servicemens' treatment of detainees at Guantanamo with the Nazi regime and the Soviet gulags, on Friday led with remarks made by Bill Bennett, just two days earlier, on his morning radio show. With “Bennett Blunder” on screen, Wyatt Andrews teased his lead story: "He really did say it, that fewer black babies would reduce crime.” Anchor Bob Schieffer appeared stupefied: "We start tonight with a story that everyone seems to be talking about, and you have to ask, 'Just what was the man thinking?'” Andrews played an audio clip of Bennett saying that “you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down” as well as how “that would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do.” Andrews then seemed befuddled: "Abort black babies and the crime rate goes down?”
It may have been an impolitic formulation (aborting all male babies for a while would lead to much less crime 15-25 years later), but as the saying goes, a gaffe in Washington is when someone says a truth people don't want to hear -- though Bennett immediately denounced the notion as "morally reprehensible." Andrews quoted from Bennett's defense, but concluded by complaining that Bennett did not cave in to political correctness: “Bennett's written statement renounces all bigotry and asserts that over his career he's worked hard for minorities. But there's nothing in the statement even close to regret or to an apology.”
Friday's NBC Nightly News also pounced on Bennett with a full story before the first ad break. Back in June, the program ran just an anchor-read brief on Durbin. Friday night, unlike Andrews, Mike Taibbi pointed out how "Bennett said he based his comments on the book Freakonomics, which, among other things, theorizes a link between abortion generally and the crime rate, but that his comments in their entirety made his position unmistakable." ABC's World News Tonight aired nothing Friday, but had a short item Thursday night. Good Morning America, which waited more than week until Durbin's apology to touch his comments, aired a full story Friday morning on Bennett. NBC's Today, which also didn't get to Durbin until he apologized -- and then not until the 8am news update, put Bennett at the top of Friday's Today. “Under fire,” Katie Couric announced, “former Education Secretary William Bennett feeling the heat for saying this on the radio." Viewers then heard a clip which excluded Bennett's “morally reprehensible” clarification.
Full transcripts of the CBS, NBC and ABC stories follow, along with links to MRC CyberAlert coverage of the reticent approach to Durbin.
CBS's Early Show never touched Durbin's sliming of servicemen, but on Friday morning Rene Syler read this short item on Bennett: "Top Democrats want an apology from former Education Secretary William Bennett. During a radio program, Bennett suggested that the crime rate would drop if all black babies were aborted. Bennett also said that would be ridiculous and morally reprehensible."
(On the Senate floor on June 14, Durbin, the Senate's Assistant Minority Leader, described alleged interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and claimed that "you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others.")
Dean’s “hotel staff” remark ignored. The CBS Evening News, as well as ABC and NBC, weren’t disturbed enough by a racial slam from DNC Chairman Howard Dean back on February 11 to report how he told the Congressional Black Caucus: "Do you think the Republican National Committee could get this many people of color in a single room? Only if they had the hotel staff in here." (NBC got around to it on the June 8 Today when Katie Couric raised it in an interview with Dean.)
CBS and NBC transcripts provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, ABC transcript completed by the MRC's Brian Boyd:
> CBS Evening News, September 30:
Wyatt Andrews, in opening teaser: "He really did say it, that fewer black babies would reduce crime. I'm Wyatt Andrews with the outrage."
Bob Schieffer led his broadcast: "And we start tonight with a story that everyone seems to be talking about, and you have to ask, 'Just what was the man thinking?' The White House today disavowed comments made by the well-known Republican party activist, Bill Bennett. They called it 'inappropriate.' That was mild compared to what other critics called Bennett's remarks about African-Americans. For his part, Bennett said today he was quoted out of context. Well, context and all, here's Wyatt Andrews."
Wyatt Andrews: "He's the former Secretary of Education and the author of the acclaimed Book of Virtues, which is why Bill Bennett created outrage this week stating on his national radio show that crime would be reduced if there was more black abortion."
Audio of Bill Bennett on his Salem Radio Network show, with text on screen, Talk Show Host: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Andrews: "Abort black babies and the crime rate goes down? The White House called that 'inappropriate,' Democrats demanded an apology, many in Congress were simply livid."
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), on the House floor: "How ridiculous, how asinine, how insane can one be?!"
Andrews: "Bennett declined an on-camera response, but has said the context of his remarks deserves consideration. He explains that he was on the phone with a caller who was arguing that if all aborted babies were alive, Social Security would be solvent. Bennett says he found that absurd and used the black abortion comment simply to illustrate that absurdity. 'A thought experiment about public policy,' he says in a written statement, 'should not have received the condemnations it has.'"
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: "In my view, it was simply wrong."
Andrews: "Bennett's critics, however, don't think it was just a thought experiment. They see a former official blaming crime on blacks, not on poor people of all races."
Henderson: "I think African-Americans are certainly tired of being stereotyped as responsible for the majority of crime in American society."
Andrews concluded: "For African-Americans the timing also hurt, right when those early reports of a New Orleans crime wave turned out to be exaggerated. Bennett's written statement renounces all bigotry and asserts that over his career he's worked hard for minorities. But there's nothing in the statement even close to regret or to an apology. Wyatt Andrews, CBS News, Washington."
> NBC Nightly News:
Anchor Brian Williams: "The White House is distancing itself tonight from comments by a well-known Republican, William Bennett, whose remarks about abortion and black children made on his radio program on Wednesday have infuriated some people. Mr. Bennett says his remarks are being taken out of context. He is calling this criticism, quote, 'ridiculous, stupid, and totally without merit.' NBC's Mike Taibbi tonight with the latest on this war of words."
Mike Taibbi: "It's been years since Dr. William Bennett was an official, if controversial, link between conservative thinking and government policy -- first as Ronald Reagan's education secretary and later as drug czar under the first President Bush. But, as the host of a nationally-broadcast radio talk show, Bennett has drawn fire again with this comment about the crime rate:"
Audio of Bill Bennett, Wednesday on his Salem Radio Network show with text on screen: "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Taibbi: "Bennett said he based his comments on the book Freakonomics, which, among other things, theorizes a link between abortion generally and the crime rate, but that his comments in their entirety made his position unmistakable."
Bennett, on Thursday's Hannity & Colmes on FNC: "I think 'morally reprehensible,' when that is included in the quote, makes it perfectly clear what my position is."
Taibbi: "Still, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today, 'The President believes the comments were not appropriate.' Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Nevada Senator Harry Reid, condemned the comments, and one civil rights group is leading a call for Bennett to be silenced."
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: "I think if Secretary Bennett does not choose to address the issue with a forthright apology, at the bare minimum, I think Secretary Bennett's program should be removed from the air."
Taibbi: "Bennett, editor of The Book of Virtues, who's been no stranger to controversy, now with another fire to put out, sparked by his own words. Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York."
> ABC's Good Morning America, September 30, at 7:10am:
Diane Sawyer: "Well, the sparks are still flying this morning over remarks yesterday from conservative talk show host and author Bill Bennett. He's the former Secretary of Education and drug czar, writer on morality. And it turns out what he's said has everybody arguing. ABC's Jake Tapper is joining us from Washington to tell us more. Jake."
Jake Tapper, live from DeSales Street in DC, with “Should Bennett Apologize?” on screen: "Good morning, Diane. Well, Bill Bennett was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Education, he's a best selling author, and he's considered one of the Republican party's big brains. But after comments he made this week, some critics, and not just Democrats, are also wondering if he's one of the Republican party's big mouths.”
Tapper on tape: “On his syndicated radio show Bennett responding to a caller discussed whether declining crime rates were as a result of the legalization of abortion."
Audio of Bill Bennett on his Salem Radio Network show with text on screen: "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do. But, your crime rate would go down."
Tapper: "Democrats expressed outrage."
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in his office: "He should be removed from the airwaves as soon as possible. Bill Bennett owes America an apology. He certainly owes African-Americans an apology."
Senator Patrick Leahy, an the street: "I'm not going to comment on something that disgusting. I'm thinking of my black grandchild and I'm just going to hold."
Tapper: "On Hannity & Colmes, Bennett said he was just making a hypothetical argument."
Bennett on FNC Thursday night: “This was like Swift's 'modest proposal,' for people who remember their literature. You put things up in order to examine them. I put it up, examined it, and said 'that is ridiculous and impossible no matter who advances.'”
Tapper: "But why immediately link blacks and crime. Bennett told me on the phone that race was on his mind because of recent stories in the media about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina."
Bennett, in taped phone interview, with text on screen: "Stories about looting and shooting and gangs and roving gangs and so on. And I'm sorry if people are hurt, I really am. But we can't say this is an area of American life, public policy that we're not allowed to talk about race and crime."
Tapper: "Robert George, a Republican editorial writer for the New York Post, agrees that Bennett's comments were not meant as racist. But he worries they feed into stereotypes of Republicans as insensitive."
Robert George: "He should know better the impact of his words and sort of thinking these things through before he speaks."
Tapper, back live, with “Should Bennett Apologize?” on screen again, concluded: "In light of accusations that the Bush administration was not as sensitive to victims of Hurricane Katrina because many of them were black, one Republican official tells ABC News that Bennett's comments were 'probably as poorly timed as they were politically incorrect.' Diane."
Sawyer: "Jake, I saw that you talked to him. What adjective did he use for what he said?"
Tapper: "He didn't. You know, he said he was being provocative. He has a background in philosophy and the idea was merely to put out a construct to discuss and shoot down. He did not seem particularly apologetic. He said he was sorry if anybody was hurt, but he saw this as a way his enemies, his opponents were out to get him."
> NBC's Today, September 30:
Katie Couric teased at the top: "Good morning. Fighting fires. California firefighters try to stop a ferocious wild fire from crossing a freeway and burning its way to the ocean. Under fire: Former Education Secretary William Bennett feeling the heat for saying this on the radio:"
Audio of Bennett with text on screen, sans the five more seconds in which Bennett rejected the idea: "You could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."
Couric: "This morning, the uproar and his explanation."
Then, after the musical intro, Couric and Lauer at the desk:
Couric: "And then Matt, conservative commentator Bill Bennett, the man who wrote the Book of Virtues, is drawing intense criticism this morning for saying on his radio program that the crime rate would go down if black babies were aborted. In the same breath, though, Bennett called it a 'reprehensible' idea and later said his comments were mis-characterized."
Finally, after all that hype, during the 7am news update news reader Natalie Morales deliverd this short item:
Morales: "Now the controversy over comments from former Education Secretary William Bennett. It began when Bennett took issue on his radio show this week with a recent book that theorized one reason crime is down is because abortion is up."
Audio of Bennett with text on screen, this time with the five seconds Today didn't play up top: "I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Morales: "Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says he is appalled by Bennett's comments and called on him to apologize. Bennett says his comments were mis-characterized."
> ABC's World News Tonight ran this short item on Thursday night:
Anchor Bob Woodruff: "One of the leading conservative voices in the country is trying to explain himself today. William Bennett, former education secretary under President Reagan, is drawing intense criticism for the comments he made on his radio show yesterday. Mr. Bennett was discussing whether the declining crime rates in the country are a result of legalizing abortion."
Audio of Bill Bennett, with text on screen: "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Woodruff: "Today, Mr. Bennett told us his comments were meant as hypothetical. He says that he was really trying to demonstrate the limitation of one argument by showing the absurdity of another."
> MRC CyberAlert items on Durbin coverage:
# June 17 CyberAlert: ABC and CBS led Thursday night with how four backbench Members of Congress held a press conference to publicize their resolution calling for a draw down of troops in Iraq by October of 2006, but neither network uttered a word about Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's outlandish comparison of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags" or Pol Pot. Only NBC reported Durbin's comparison, but that brief item aired only after Kelly O'Donnell touted the vision of "North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, who today alongside two Democrats and a fellow Republican, proposed what many Americans, weary of the violence in Iraq, appear increasingly eager to see, a withdrawal date for U.S. troops." On ABC, anchor Elizabeth Vargas announced: "We start tonight with the Bush administration and the growing discontent over the war in Iraq. On Capitol Hill today, a resolution was introduced that would require U.S. troops to begin pulling out of Iraq a year from this fall. The resolution was sponsored by a small, bipartisan group of Congressmen, but it is a first."
# June 17 CyberAlert: Senators Bill Frist and Hillary Clinton made the rounds of the morning shows Thursday to publicize their bill on medical privacy guidelines for hospitals, but none of the ABC, CBS or NBC interviewers took advantage of the opportunity to bring up Dick Durbin's allegation (see item #1 above). On CBS, Julie Chen highlighted how "Republican Congressman Walter Jones once supported the war but today he'll join a group of lawmakers calling for a firm date to withdraw U.S. forces." NBC's Matt Lauer posed a tough question to Frist about how the Terri Schiavo autopsy disproved his claim that "'she does respond,' end quote. Were you wrong in your diagnosis?" But he then cued up Clinton with how Senator Leahy says Guantanamo should be closed and asked: "Does Guantanamo serve a purpose or is it a black-eye for the United States?"
# June 20 CyberAlert: NBC's Katie Couric and Tim Russert managed on Friday morning to cover just about everything in the news -- except Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's incendiary comments equating Guantanamo with the Nazi regime and the Soviet gulags. Couric raised with Russert how the "House introduced a resolution that would require President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq beginning next year," how "according to the latest Gallup Poll, 56 percent of Americans say now the war was not worth it, almost 60 percent say the Pentagon should pull some or all of the troops out of Iraq," how "some senior Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for a full investigation of the so-called Downing Street Memo," and she concluded with how "in a rare display of bipartisanship, we saw Bill Frist and Hillary Clinton appear on this program yesterday talking about some legislation that they're pushing in terms of health care." Ignored by Couric: Durbin's charge: "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others."
# June 22 CyberAlert: It took an action by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin himself to generate some broadcast network attention for his June 14 remarks on the Senate floor in which the Senate's Assistant Minority Leader described interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and claimed that "you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others." Late Tuesday afternoon Durbin apologized for smearing U.S. servicemen, leading to short items on the ABC and NBC evening shows Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning to a brief item on NBC's Today and a full story on ABC's Good Morning America, the first mentions of the subject on ABC's World News Tonight or the two morning programs. Last Thursday, the NBC Nightly News carried a very brief item. CBS, however, maintained its blackout and didn't utter a word about Durbin on Tuesday's CBS Evening News or Wednesday's Early Show. CNN's Aaron Brown snidely hoped: "You would think now this story would go away, and it probably will in your lifetime."
# June 23 CyberAlert: The CBS Evening News has yet to inform its viewers about Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's comparison on June 14 of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo to those employed by "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags," nor his June 22 apology, but on Wednesday night, in story on how "there are allegations Christian Evangelicals at the [Air Force] academy have been harassing cadets of other faiths," David Martin highlighted a Republican Congressman's charge which had enraged Democrats. Martin relayed how the "explosive charge of religious intolerance" at the service academy "triggered this heated exchange when Democrat David Obey brought it up on the floor of the House." Viewers saw a clip from Monday of Republican Congressman John Hostettler of Indiana: "Like a moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians." CBS then showed Obey's rebuke: "I move the gentleman's words be taken down."
# June 23 CyberAlert: MSNBC's Countdown has been a lot more interested in Nazi comparisons by Republicans than Democrats. In May, Keith Olbermann castigated Republican Senator Rick Santorum for criticizing another Senator's Nazi reference and dug out video from 2003 of Santorum "comparing the New York Times to Nazis," but not until Wednesday night of this week did the show mention Democratic Senator Dick Durbin's comparison of treatment of detainees at Guantanamo to how the Nazis behaved. Fill-in host Alison Stewart asserted that Republicans were the hypocrites since "the outcry comes from leaders in the Republican Party whose own members and supporters have used that word, even made it a suffix -- i.e., 'feminazi.'" Stewart reminded viewers that "Durbin is not the only lawmaker to attack a practice or policy by comparing it to Nazis. Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?" She then cited three Nazi quotes from GOP Senators before Craig Crawford rued how "the Democrats lost the portrayal of these remarks by Durbin to the spin from the Republican side."
# June 24 CyberAlert Extra: When Howard Dean made any number of his outlandish attacks on Republicans, Senator Hillary Clinton described Republicans as "people who have never been acquainted with the truth" and Dick Durbin slimed servicemen by equating detainee treatment at Guantanamo with Nazis and the Soviet gulag, the broadcast network evening and morning shows ignored the remarks, or got to them fleetingly months or a week or so later. But when Karl Rove, the White House Deputy Chief-of-Staff, observed that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers," the networks pounced within hours. ABC's World News Tonight, which had never shown the allegations from Clinton or Durbin, jumped on Rove. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas snidely asserted that Rove "was not attempting to reach across the aisle." Jake Tapper relayed how Rove's "remarks had Democrats up in arms today as they recall the bipartisan resolution to go to war against al-Qaeda." Tapper scolded: "President Bush came to office promising to change the tone in Washington. Political observers say it has changed. It's nastier." NBC's Kelly O'Donnell passed along: "Adding insult, Democrats say after 9/11, both parties stood with the President." CNN's Aaron Brown chided Rove for his "silly" comments.
# June 24 CyberAlert Extra: CBS's Early Show has yet to utter a word about how Senator Dick Durbin's June 14 sliming of servicemen by equating detainee treatment at Guantanamo with Nazis and the Soviet gulag, but on Friday morning CBS highlighted how, as Rene Syler put it, "presidential advisor Karl Rove stirred up a hornet's nest with a speech about liberals and the war on terror." NBC's Today didn't get to Durbin until the morning after his June 21 apology, and then only in a brief item during the 8am news update, but on Friday, Today led with Rove as Matt Lauer trumpeted: "Good morning, President Bush's right hand man under fire. Did Karl Rove go too far in his comments on liberals and 9/11?" Today aired a full story from Kelly O'Donnell before Lauer dedicated most of a session, with White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, to Rove. Lauer read how Senator Harry Reid wants Rove to apologize and resign, and then demanded: "Why won't Karl Rove apologize?" Over on ABC's Good Morning America, which got to Durbin with a full story only the morning after his apology, Bill Weir pressed Bartlett about Rove with two questions. Weir set them up: "Top political advisor Karl Rove certainly stirred controversy with some comments attacking liberals this week. Let's listen to this."