Bill Frist on CNN: Media Concentrates on Democratic Spin
At 7:30AM EDT on Wednesday’s American Morning, CNN’s Miles O’Brien was particularly antagonistic toward Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. O’Brien began the segment by highlighting video of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accusing Republicans of concentrating on issues such as the flag burning amendment, while ignoring more pressing matters. O’Brien jumped at the charge:
Miles O’Brien: "I–the question that a lot of people have on their minds, Senator, is, are you, are you fiddling while Rome is burning?"
O’Brien continued to pound Frist throughout the interview, and cited an editorial from a Chattanooga, Tennessee paper which slammed Frist for his "shameless pandering to conservatives." O’Brien asked the majority leader why Americans were not hearing the message that the Senate was taking action on these issues. Frist turned the tables on O’Brien, charging him for focusing on the Senate debates over same-sex marriage and the flag amendment, while not mentioning: "what we’ve done on the floor for the last six weeks: Iraq, the war on terror, making you safer, yes, cutting your taxes, fighting for fairer tax code over time, addressing border security head-on. Where’s your coverage of that?" Frist then directly answered O’Brien’s charge that Americans are not hearing his message:
Senator Bill Frist: "What you do is concentrate on the things that are spun to you from the other side of the aisle, and that’s why that message doesn’t get out."
O’Brien began the interview by highlighting charges from Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, that Senate Republicans are not focusing on "priority" issues facing the country:
O’Brien: "I want to share with you a couple of things. First of all, your counterpart across the aisle, the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, what he had to say about this flag-burning amendment. Let’s listen."
Senator Harry Reid: "What are we doing here in Congress? We’re dealing with same-sex marriage. We’re dealing with the estate tax, that affects 2/10 of one percent of the people in this country, and we’re talking about flag burning. No matter how you feel about flag burning, is that a priority issue for right now with all the things we have going? The answer, young man, is no."
O’Brien seemed to accept Reid’s charge as fact and asked pointedly:
O’Brien: "Yeah, and take a look at some numbers. I want to put up some poll numbers very quickly here. This is a Washington Post/ABC News poll, recent one, June 22nd to the 25th. When you ask people what’s most important in this country, they put Iraq at the top, then the economy, health care, immigration. Flag burning didn’t come up there. I–the question that a lot of people have on their minds, Senator, is are you, are you fiddling while Rome is burning?"
Frist: "Well, Miles, you have to ask yourself, look over the last two and a half weeks, how much time did we spend on flag burning, and how much time did we spend on other issues like Iraq, like what Harry Reid and, and the Democrats wanted to do, is cut and run, surrender in Iraq? We spent the last two weeks. Is flag burning an important issue? I think it is an important issue. The House has voted on it every Congress, overwhelming majority supporting it...For those two weeks on Iraq, we demonstrated by a vote of 93 to 6 that surrender is not a solution, that victory is the answer in Iraq. If you look at the two to three weeks prior to that, we addressed border security and tightening our borders. We passed a comprehensive bill in the United States Senate. So yes, this United States Senate, these 100 people that Americans sent here, can do more than one thing at any point in time."
O’Brien followed up by insinuating that since there had been no "conclusion" over the illegal immigration issue, the Senate debate was basically meaningless:
O’Brien: "But–but, but there, there remains outstanding an issue, which a lot of people, obviously, from this poll find important, and that is immigration, which has not come to any sort of fruitful conclusion. Can you, can you look voters in the face and tell them you’re, you’re spending your time wisely there in Washington?"
Frist: "I can say if you look at the last eight weeks and the fact that we spent four weeks on the floor of the Senate debating immigration, that, that we took on the tough issues...Yes, we’re doing the nation’s business. We put $10 billion last December in border security. We’re doubling the number of border security agent–agents on the border. We’re building 370 miles of fence as a start. That is a huge, huge progress, a lot more to do. But you can’t say–you can’t say, or you can’t pay attention to the Democrats who say, they’re not addressing the nation’s business, cause we’re addressing them head-on. Border security, the war in Iraq, those are the big issues that are out there, and we’re spending the time on the floor doing just that."
O’Brien then used a bad-news-for-the GOP-poll, along with a critical editorial from a Chattanooga newspaper to question Frist on his performance as majority leader:
O’Brien: "All right, having said that, though, people are expressing some discontent with the GOP. Take a look at these numbers. With the election season looming, and I know you watch these numbers closely. This is a USA Today/Gallup poll, June 23rd-25th is time frame. When asked who they’re going to vote for, coming up, who they prefer, 54 percent say Democrats, 38 percent Republicans. And there’s a trend which has been tilting toward the Democrats. I want to couple that with this editorial from your newspaper in your home state. Chattanooga, Tennessee: ‘Mr. Frist, whose stumbles on the Schiavo case,’ referring to Terri Schiavo and all that, ‘and his proposed $100 gas rebate virtually have wrecked his presidential aspirations, seems oblivious to his self-imposed political destruction. Still, his shameless pandering to conservatives who rally around those cases is a disservice to his Tennessee constituents and to the national constituency he ostensibly serves as the majority leader.’ You feel like you’re doing a good job, sir?"
Frist then turned the tables on O’Brien, alleging that the media chooses not to cover the Senate when it does take action on important issues. Not surprisingly, O’Brien denied the charge:
Frist: "...What I know is what is right, what takes–what it takes in terms of bold leadership, securing America’s homeland...That’s the sort of action that we’re doing, that you may not cover it, others may not cover it, but are important to the American people."
O’Brien: "No, no–We, we, we’re covering it, but I think there is–a lot of what you say there, Americans are not hearing that particular message."
Frist: "That’s right, and that’s the problem. That’s the problem."
O’Brien: "And is–as the majority leader, isn’t that part of your job?"
Frist took the opportunity to strike back at the media’s coverage of the Senate:
Frist: "Well, you know, it’s part of my job and your job, but your whole coming into this, was again, saying to Harry Reid that we’re spending all the time on marriage, and is important, all the time on flag, without mentioning what we’ve done on the floor for the last six weeks: Iraq, the war on terror, making you safer, yes, cutting your taxes, fighting for fairer tax code over time, addressing border security head-on. Where’s your coverage of that? What you do is concentrate on the things that are spun to you from the other side of the aisle, and that’s why that message doesn’t get out."
O’Brien concluded the segment by asking Frist whether he agreed with other Republicans that The New York Times should face criminal charges over their story revealing a government program to track down terrorists by examining a global database of financial transactions:
O’Brien: "All right, final thing I want, I want you to weigh on if you could. Congressman Peter King, Republican of New York, we’re talking here about the, The New York Times and the story that they published, talking about that secret program to comb through our bank accounts in search of terrorists. He says there should be criminal charges against The New York Times. Do you agree or disagree with that?"
Frist, while saying that he was not sure criminal charges should be brought forward against the Times at this time, forcefully stated that the media acts "irresponsibly" in situations like this and should be held accountable:
Frist: "You know, I, I don’t–I personally, and I’m not speaking on behalf of either leadership or the Senate, think we need criminal charges at this standpoint. But I’d tell you, and I, I think this, this Homeland Security, the war on terrorism is absolutely critical, based on what I see every day in my, in my briefings and what I know about al-Qaeda and, and the war itself. And any time that our media irresponsibly, wrongly, I think, gives the playbook that makes us safer to the enemy, to the terrorists, who want to kill you and kill people in New York and around, in Tennessee and in Nashville, that’s their goal–And when you give them the playbook that allows them to escape detection, that is wrong, and I think it should not be done, and I think it is irresponsible."
O’Brien: "But no criminal charges, you said?"
Frist: "Well, I would stop short of that. Just–I don’t know enough about the details. If there’s been a leak of classified information and The New York Times played a part in that leak of the classified information that makes you safer, there should be criminal charges. I just don’t know what the facts are at this juncture. So I think that people should ask the questions, where did this information come from? Was it purposely leaked to The New York Times, and was The New York Times complicit in leaking a highly classified program to the American people, which makes us less safe? Then I think we might have to look at it."