Evening Shows Distort Alito’s Abortion Role, Peg Him as “Hardline” Conservative

<img vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" align="right" src="/media/2005-10-31-ABCAbort2.jpg" />In covering on Monday night the nomination of appellate court judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, ABC and CBS distorted his role and position on the husband-notification abortion case and pegged him as a “staunch” or “hardline” conservative, but NBC managed to correctly describe his role in the abortion case and depicted him as “dependably conservative, though with an independent streak.&quot; The<i> NBC Nightly News</i>, however, jumped from Alito to a nearly full story about how the Bush White House’s attempt at “diverting attention from the Scooter Libby indictment won't be easy because of the unanswered questions” which David Gregory helpfully went on to list before declaring that what today’s administration is saying is “a far cry from the candor that candidate Bush once promised.&quot;<br /><br />ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas teased <i>World News Tonight</i> by asserting, as if it were his preference and not a ruling on the constitutionality of a law signed by a Democratic Governor, that Alito “once said a woman should tell her husband before she gets an abortion.&quot; On the <i>CBS Evening News</i>, Gloria Borger maintained that Alito “has favored limits on abortion; most notably arguing that women seeking abortions should be required to inform their husbands first.&quot; NBC’s Brian Williams correctly related how “he voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law requiring women to notify their husbands before seeking an abortion.” (ABC’s Jake Tapper undermined the media assumption that Alito was out of touch as he noted that “recent polling indicates more than seven in ten Americans support Alito's position.) <br /><br />On ideological labeling, ABC’s Vargas asserted: “Conservatives are thrilled, liberals incensed.” She went on to relay that “he is said to be brilliant and a staunch conservative.” CBS anchor Schieffer saw Democrats not liberals when he touted how Bush has “made the conservatives happy, but the Democrats are upset.&quot; John Roberts proceeded to assert: “Alito's judicial philosophy so mirrors that of the Supreme Court's hardliner, Antonin Scalia, that he's been nicknamed 'Scalito.'&quot; Roberts ominously warned: &quot;If confirmed, Alito would wipe out the swing seat now occupied by Sandra Day O'Connor, tilting the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for years to come.&quot; (Lengthier transcripts follow.) <br /><br />
<!--break--><img vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" align="right" src="/media/2005-10-31-ABCGuns.jpg" /> Strangest news judgment of the night: ABC’s Terry Moran’s choice for the second of Alito’s “key rulings&quot; during his 15-year judgeship: “His vote to overturn a congressional ban on owning machine guns.”<br /> <br />(On CBS’s definitive tagging of Alito as a “conservative” and a “hardliner,” by way of contrast the MRC’s Rich Noyes reminded me of how 12 years ago CBS didn’t see Clinton nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a solid liberal, never mind any kind of hardliner. Rita Braver opened her June 14, 1993 <i>CBS Evening News</i> story: &quot;Sixty-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been an Appeals Court judge for 13 years. She's considered moderate to liberal, but today she cited this guideline to judging from ultraconservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist.&quot; On the <i>NBC Nightly News</i> that night, Andrea Mitchell insisted: &quot;Bill Clinton's first Supreme Court nominee is a judicial moderate and a pioneer for women's rights.&quot;) <br /><br />Some highlights from the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Monday night, October 31, which I managed to cobble together from the closed-captioning that I checked, against the video of what aired, between answering trick-or-treaters at my door:<br /><br /># ABC’s <i>World News Tonight</i>: <br /><blockquote>Elizabeth Vargas’ tease: “On <i>World News Tonight</i>: President Bush's latest nominee to the Supreme Court. Conservatives are thrilled, liberals incensed. He once said a woman should tell her husband before she gets an abortion.” <br /><br />Vargas led: “Good evening. President Bush today chose another nominee for the Supreme Court. And in the process, ignited what may be an enormous battle in the Senate. Conservatives say they are thrilled with the selection of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'connor. One called him a grand-slam home run. But many liberals are incensed and are already lining up in opposition. Judge Alito is a federal appeals court judge with a long and well-documented record on the bench. He is said to be brilliant and a staunch conservative. And ABC's Terry Moran joins us from the White House. Terry, it’s that last description that has touched off so much reaction.” <br /><br />In his story, Terry Moran asserted: “He quickly established a reputation on the bench as brilliant and deeply conservative.” <br /><br />After soundbites from Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer, Moran maintained: “Among Alito’s key rulings, his vote in an abortion case to uphold a law requiring women to inform their husbands before obtaining an abortion. And his vote to overturn a congressional ban on owning machine guns. Echoing the opinion of many lawyers who’ve appeared before him, a former law clerk describes Alito as, above all, methodical.” <br /><br />Vargas set up the next story: “But at least one of his rulings in the past on abortion was directly at odds with the Supreme Court Justice Alito hopes to replace.”<br /><br />Jake Tapper provided a balanced story on Alito’s abortion positions. Tapper displayed an on-screen graphic which showed how a 2003 Gallup Poll found by 72 to 26 percent most support the spousal notfication law that Vargas and Moran found so noteworthy. Tapper explained:<br />“Recent polling indicates more than seven in ten Americans support Alito's position. But in 1992, the Supreme Court struck down Pennsylvania’s spousal notification law as unconstitutional.”<br /><br /><br />ABC ended with Vargas talking with George Stephanopolous about the White House strategy to get out of their hole.</blockquote># <i>CBS Evening News</i>:<br /><blockquote>Schieffer’s tease: “The President makes a new pick for the Supreme Court: Philadelphia appellate court judge Samuel Alito. This time he's made the conservatives happy, but the Democrats are upset.” <br /><br />Schieffer led: “Well, conservatives wanted a conservative on the Supreme Court, and said the President ought to risk a fight in the Senate to get one. Their wishes have been fulfilled. Samuel Alito is a respected conservative, and if the early Democratic reaction is an indication of what's ahead, it will take a knock-down, drag-out fight to get him confirmed.” <br /><br />John Roberts maintained: “Conservatives were quote, 'deliriously happy’ over the choice. And why not? Alito's judicial philosophy so mirrors that of the Supreme Court's hardliner, Antonin Scalia, that he's been nicknamed 'Scalito.’&quot; <br /><br />Roberts soon warned: “If confirmed, Alito would wipe out the swing seat now occupied by Sandra Day O'connor, tilting the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for years <br />to come.” <br /><br />Andrew Cohen, CBS News legal analyst: “Whether it's abortion rights or religion in public life or the role of the executive in a time of war, all the cutting-edge issues may actually change.” <br /><br /><img vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" align="right" src="/media/2005-10-31-CBSENgraphic.jpg" />In the next story, Gloria Borger cited the concerns of “liberal interest groups,” and then noted: “Like Justice Scalia, Alito is an intellectual favorite of conservatives. One reason: He has favored limits on abortion; most notably arguing that women seeking abortions should be required to inform their husbands first, a position shot down by the Supreme Court.” <br /><br /> On screen as Borger spoke:<br />“Alito’s Record<br />- Favors limits on abortion<br />- Husbands should be notified first” <br /><br /><br />Next, Jim Axelrod provided a look at how those who know in from Philadelphia nad New Jersey view him. Axelrod concluded: “Those who know him best are saying as far as the kind of person he is, the President couldn't have done better.”<br /><br /><br />CBS wrapped up with q and a amongst Roberts, Borger and the Chicago Tribune’s Jan Crawford Greenburg.</blockquote> <br /><br /># <i>NBC Nightly News</i><br /><blockquote>In his introduction, Brian Williams announced: “Alito is considered dependably conservative, though with an independent streak.”<br /><br />Pete Williams soon maintained: “Judge Alito's most controversial legal opinion came in 1991 when he voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law requiring women to notify their husbands before seeking an abortion. The Supreme Court struck that law down, and abortion rights advocates today called for Alito's defeat.” <br /><br />Williams soon added a contrasting assessment from what ABC and CBS delivered: “Alito's rulings also show an independent streak, allowing a woman from Iran to seek asylum in the U.S. based on Iran’s treatment of women and allowing parents to sue a public school for failing to protect their son from merciless bullying.” <br /><br /><br />Next, David Gregory framed a story: “With today's announcement, a weakened President achieved two goals at once, he changed the subject, and picked a fight.” <br /><br />After soundbites from Leahy, Trent Lott and Grover Norquist, as well as an audio clip from Rush Limbaugh in which the radio host contended that “we want a debate about the role of judiciary in our society,” Gregory launched an attack on the Bush White House for daring to try to move on from Friday’s indictments:<br />“But diverting attention from the Scooter Libby indictment won't be easy because of the unanswered questions. What was the Vice President's role in undermining war critics? Does the President approve of his senior advisor, Karl Rove, discussing a covert CIA officer with reporters even if it wasn't a crime? And this from the President's spokesman two years ago when asked about Rove’s or Libby's involvement.” <br /><br />Scott McClellan, October 2003: “That’s why I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.” <br /><br />Gregory: “Scott McClellan today.”<br /><br />Gregory in press briefing: “You were wrong weren’t you?”<br /><br />McClellan: “If I were to get into commenting from this podium while this legal proceeding continues, I might be prejudicing the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial.” <br /><br />Gregory: “A far cry from the candor that candidate Bush once promised.”<br /><br />George W. Bush, October 2000: “In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal, but what is right. Not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves.”<br /><br />Gregory: “But now the President is following a legal strategy, hopeful it will serve his political goal of simply moving on. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.” <br /> <br /><br />Finally, Gregory talked with Tim Russert about the White House strategy to get back on track by January.</blockquote>

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center