The networks Monday night skipped lightly over the late Senator Robert Byrd's segregationist and racist record, devoting as much time to the Democrat's fiddle-playing prowess as his years in the Ku Klux Klan, which CBS's Chip Reid excused as “an effort to help his political career.”
Leading into file video of Byrd playing his fiddle, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer declared “Byrd was a powerhouse and old-fashioned crowd-pleaser on the stump, whipping out his fiddle.” Though Byrd is the only Senator to have voted against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Cokie Roberts asserted that “as the country changed, Robert Byrd changed with it. He readily endorsed Barack Obama for President.”
After touting how by “writing several volumes of Senate history” Byrd had followed in Caesar's “footsteps,” she concluded: “Like the Constitution and the bible, Robert Byrd will be a permanent fixture of the Senate.”
On CBS, Reid also stressed the fiddle-playing: “Byrd grew up in poverty in the coal fields of West Virginia where he learned to play the fiddle. For decades, he used it to entertain audiences on the campaign trail.” Reid later recalled:
His life was not without mistakes. He joined the Ku Klux Klan as a young man, an effort to help his political career -- a decision that haunted him all his life. He also participated in the historic filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He later apologized for both actions and became a strong advocate of civil rights.
Since he's a Democrat, all is forgiven.
The full coverage on the Monday, June 28 World News on ABC:
DIANE SAWYER: An historic passing to note. On the same day Alaska became a state, Robert Byrd of West Virginia was sworn in as a U.S. Senator. Byrd died early today at the age of 92, the longest-serving member of Congress in history. His Senate desk draped in black bunting. Byrd was a powerhouse and old-fashioned crowd pleaser on the stump, whipping out his fiddle. [video of Byrd playing fiddle] Our Cokie Roberts remembers an icon now.
COKIE ROBERTS: Though most politicians tout their humble beginnings, Robert Byrd was the real deal. An orphan raised dirt poor who never went to college, but went to Congress. In early days, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and filibustered against civil rights. He later apologized for his Klan membership.
ROBERT BYRD: It was a mistake and one that I have greatly regretted over the years.
ROBERTS: And as the country changed, Robert Byrd changed with it. He readily endorsed Barack Obama for President. And though he had supported the Vietnam war he became a forceful voice against the Iraq war.
BYRD: Why is war being dealt with not as a last resort but as a first resort?
ROBERTS: He never forgot the voters of West Virginia who saw more than $3 billion in federal funds come their way. It was, however, the United States Senate that mattered most to Byrd. He lauded the institution and often lectured it.
BYRD: Caesar showed himself at this time to be also a historian.
ROBERTS: Byrd followed in the Roman's footsteps, writing several volumes of Senate history, reminding his colleagues and the country that the institution is more important than politics or Presidents. That's why he always carried the Constitution, which names Byrd's beloved Congress as the first branch of government.
BYRD: I say we ought to read the Constitution more.
ROBERTS: And, like the Constitution and the bible, Robert Byrd will be a permanent fixture of the Senate.